Back in the days when Craigslist was still the coolest thing since sliced bread, its outlandish advertisements were great comic fodder.
“Seeking adult drunk clown for 30th birthday party,” “Need someone to hide Easter eggs in my apartment when I’m not home,” “I took your purse and felt a connection,” and other gems filled the site.
The posts were unbelievable, yet some people responded to them as if they were bona fide.
Now, Yelp users are similarly mocking gullible readers with a review for an $8 billion Kansas Abortionplex, which came out of an Onion article published on May 18 called “Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex.”
Many people that read the Onion’s Abortionplex article believed it was real. A site called Literallyunbelievable.org tracks Onion articles that people respond to as if they are genuine, capturing the comment of one Facebook user to the Abortionplex story: “I am totally speechless after reading this!... And we are paying for it!”
Another Onion story, “Oprah invites hundreds of lucky fans to be buried with her in massive tomb,” received comments like “Oh that’s just pathetic!”
Humans have been gullible at least since the 16th century, when the word gullible was derived from the Old French word goule, which became gull, meaning to swallow. But have we become more likely to swallow what we read in recent years?
Some would say that we haven’t, such as the skeptic Web site the Secular Web, which says that “those ready to believe or exaggerate stories of the supernatural ... were much more common in antiquity, and taken far more seriously.”
But a recent CNN report says that one downside of the Internet “is the [erosion] of our healthy skepticism ... among people ... who might have grown with the Web all their lives.” CNN interviewed a University of Connecticut professor who had conducted a study in which he showed 7th graders a fake tree octopus. Most of his students thought the tree octopus was real.
Professor Donald Leu clarified that the study “doesn’t suggest that the Internet is make us more gullible or more stupid. It suggests that we need to teach additional reading comprehension in schools ... and critical evaluation skills of source.” (Watch the interview with Leu below.)
The Yelp reviewers mercilessly make fun of those readers who may have been lacking in the critical evaluation skills department and thought the Abortionplex was real. The four pages of reviews get increasingly more sarcastic and over-the-top, with a recent review, in which the reader gave the Abortionplex 1 star, reading:
“I hate this place. It's like an Abortion-themed Disneyland in summertime: LINES! EVERYWHERE! Lines to park your car, lines to get into the door, lines to go to the bathroom, lines to use the hand sanitizer station, lines to the arcade games, lines to the Hall of Fame museum, and lines to snack bar to get my peanut butter and jelly fetuswich... I stood in line for 2 HOURS to ride the Umbilicoaster and when I'm almost at the front, IT BREAKS DOWN!”
Another reviewer, also riffing on the postmodern nightmare the Onion created of an abortion clinic mixed with a theme park, wrote:
“I just don't get what all the hype is about. First, the line for the Lazy River was crazy packed and I had to wait FOREVER for a Fallopian Innertube.”
It’s only a matter of time before someone stumbles upon the Abortionplex Yelp review page and thinks it’s real. Pathetic, they’ll say. Just pathetic.