The satirical news publication The Onion gets a lot of laughs by crossing the line. But even some of the most devoted fans of the popular humor outlet were complaining on Thursday that it may have gone too far.
At around 9:30 am, The Onion put out a message to the 3.1 million followers of its Twitter feed @TheOnion. The identical message was posted to The Onion's Facebook page, which has 1.9 million fans.
"BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building," the message said.
And then silence for 10 minutes.
Subsequent tweets and Facebook updates made it clear the message was part of a joke and quashed speculation that The Onion had been hacked.
"Congress Takes Group Of Schoolchildren Hostage," it said with a link to a parody article on TheOnion.com about US lawmakers taking children hostage and vowing to shoot one every hour unless they got "$12 trillion in cash."
As the original Onion tweet rocketed around Twitter, US Capitol Police issued a statement saying conditions there were "normal" and there was "no credibility to these stories or the Twitter feeds."
"The US Capitol Police are currently investigating the reporting," added a spokeswoman for the US Capitol Police, Sergeant Kimberly Schneider.
Contacted by AFP, The Onion declined comment.
The joke news story came one day after US authorities said they had arrested a US follower of Al-Qaeda who allegedly planned to fly explosive-packed, remote controlled airplanes into the Pentagon and the US Capitol.
The original message about "screams and gunfire" in the Capitol received hundreds of comments on The Onion's Facebook page, most of them negative.
"Unfunny. unlike," wrote Brendan Burke.
"Poor choice for humor. Hostage taking and gunfire have never been funny," said Pat Donovan Baessler.
"There's a fine line between irreverent humor and poor taste," said Lori Hein. "This post has crossed that line."
Reader Eric Vogel parodied The Onion's original message for his comment.
"BREAKING: Witnesses report that The Onion isn't as funny as it used to be," Vogel said.
Other readers expressed surprise anybody could be offended by The Onion.
"Isn't the whole point of The Onion to be tasteless?! Hello!" wrote Debbie Pollack DeKalb.
The Onion is known for attempting to inject a dose of humor into sensitive subjects with fake news stories.
Just two weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, it published a story with the headline "Hijackers Surprised to Find Selves in Hell."
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