SEPTEMBER 29, 2011- The Onion drew criticism in some circles for a series of satirical Twitter reports claiming that there was a hostage situation inside the Capitol building. Now the United States Capitol Police said they were investigating The Onion for making false reports on Twitter, claiming that there was indeed a real life hostage situation inside the Capitol building when in reality, there wasn’t.
Starting at 10:33 a.m., The Onion’s Twitter account began spewing the fake messages that began with this post: “BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building.”
Ten minutes later, the Twitter account posted: “BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. #CongressHostage.”
The posts are related to a satiric article and doctored photo on The Onion’s Web site that describes a fake hostage situation.
The photos portray Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican from Ohio, holding a gun to a young schoolgirl’s head.
The article begins with: “Brandishing shotguns and semiautomatic pistols, members of the 112th U.S. Congress took a class of visiting schoolchildren hostage today, barricading themselves inside the Capitol rotunda and demanding $12 trillion dollars in cash.”
The Onion’s Twitter messages went out on the same morning that real headlines were dominated by the arrest of a Massachusetts man in connection with a plot to blow up the United States Capitol and the Pentagon.
The posts, which were widely shared around the Web, prompted the Capitol Police to issue a statement declaring them fake: “Twitter feeds are reporting false information concerning current conditions at the U.S. Capitol. Conditions at the U.S. Capitol are currently normal. There is no credibility to these stories or the Twitter feeds.”
There was mixed reaction on Twitter, but, for the most part, many people said that they did not find The Onion’s approach amusing.
Writing from Seattle, Mark Olwick posted: “@the onion. You realize that this isn’t funny at all, right? Please stop that gag.”
Anne Finn, a spokeswoman for The Onion, said that the Twitter account was not hacked. She declined to answer questions about The Onion’s decision to post messages that a hostage situation was underway at the U.S. Capitol.
The company also posted similar updates on its Facebook page. The page has 1.9 million fans.