Fake news on New Year’s Eve goes viral
A SATRIRCAL news report on a decision by the NSW Government to enforce a strict 10:30 PM curfew on New Year's Eve in Sydney has been taken seriously by scores of readers.
The publisher, satirical new website Double Bay Today, reported the decision had thrown the New Year's Eve plans of millions of Sydneysiders into disarray.
"Anyone found roaming the streets after 10.30 PM will be drug tested and fined $370. A heavy police presence will be enforcing the curfew," the website wrote, attributing the comments in jest to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. "The best place to spend the night is within your own home, or in the home of friends or relatives. We don't see any reason why Sydneysiders should be out past 10:30 PM on December 31."
The report added Sydney's New Year's Eve fireworks will go ahead and those wanting to see it could do so on TV. "Or if they have a view of the fireworks from their home that is fine too," the website wrote, also attributing the comment to the premier.
Disclaimers on the website's homepage and Facebook page indicating its stories are not real have not stopped readers, who've shared the story nearly 500 times and expressed their outrage on Facebook.
"WTF! What a waste of taxpayers money if you can't see the fireworks first-hand," wrote one reader.
"Is she kidding? We are becoming such a nanny state. I don't advocate drugs or violence but come on, it's one night of the year," another wrote.
"Aren't you glad you are going to China," a reader said, tagging in a friend. "Why the frick is there a curfew?"
At least one reader shared their support for the parodied premier.
"Good to hear about the curfew, but how about enforcing it on a normal day," she wrote.
This is not the first time Double Bay Today has stoked controversy by lampooning NSW's lockout laws. A December 2 story by the website headlined 'NSW Government Now Considering Lockout Laws for Convenience Stores' also convinced some readers the gag was real.
Double Bay Today publisher, former ABC news presenter Simon Palan, told news.com.au he was surprised by readers' reactions.
"When writing the story, I thought the idea of a government forcing everyone home by 10.30pm on New Year's Eve could only be viewed as a joke. But I was stunned by how many people took it seriously," Mr Palan said.
He added: "After the lockout laws, festival closures and the increase in drug testing and sniffer dogs we've seen in this state, it seems some residents are bewildered and confused about what might come next and are struggling to make sense of what's fact and what's fiction. It says a lot about how voters view the current state government."
Spokesman for anti-lockout advocacy group Keep Sydney Open, Stephan Györy, said he was not surprised that some readers had thought the stories were real given the state's regulatory crackdown that has been blamed for the closure of 418 licensed premises around the state and cost the industry more than $1 billion since coming into effect in 2014, according to NSW Racing and Gaming data.
"NSW is being run in such a way by the Liberals that this kind of thing does not seem far-fetched," Mr Györy said. "They are waging an intense cultural war and targeting anyone who wants to dance or go out or have a good time at night. They are enforcing their own brand of moral conservatism on the wider electorate."
To prevent further confusion, Mr Palan has added another disclaimer on the footnote of the story.
"I think some readers - particularly older ones - are not as familiar with news satire as a genre as they've only had limited exposure to sites like Double Bay Today and The Betoota Advocate," he said. "So I edited the story to include a line saying it is satirical.
"The last thing I want to do is deceive. But it didn't seem to make much difference."