For Political Cartoonists, the Irony Was That Facebook Didn’t Recognize Irony

A political cartoon about vaccines is being drawn on a tablet.

Have you ever made an ironic remark and had it misinterpreted or misunderstood? Us, too. It happens. In a real-time conversation, you might be able to explain and repair the conversation. Indeed, when the context and intention are clear enough, many potential misunderstandings don’t happen in the first place. On social media, though, things can get more complicated, and ironic intent may not be recognized. New York Times technology correspondent Mike Isaac wrote this March 2021 report on Facebook’s ironic irony problem.

Read it here.


1. Why, according to Isaac, is irony hard to detect? Isaac presents views and statements from Facebook as well as those of several cartoonists and satirists. Does he present all of the complexity of the situation fairly? Why or why not? Point to examples from the report to support your conclusions.

2. Isaac’s report appears in the Technology section of the New York Times; does the article have any purpose other than providing information? How did you arrive at your conclusion? Point to passages from the article that inform your response. What might Isaac’s own position be on the problem of recognizing irony on social media? Is it possible to definitively determine his position? Why or why not? Do you think he should have stated an explicit position on the issue? Why or why not?

3. LET’S TALK. While humor comes in many forms, it all relies on some unexpected element in a situation, some surprise, or twist. Often that twist involves saying the exact opposite of what you really mean. (“Oh, I think those lime green paisley platform shoes would be sensational for your wedding outfit!”) That very everyday form of humor, irony, is what Isaac’s essay addresses. Think of two examples of irony from your recent experience—one that was successful and another that was misunderstood or misconstrued. Your examples may come from personal interactions you had yourself or witnessed directly, or from things you saw or read from media or other sources. Share those examples among two or three classmates and look for patterns; what is it that distinguishes the successful ironies from the unsuccessful ones? Might your conclusions and observations be useful for Facebook? For cartoonists such as Bors? Why or why not?

4. LET’S WRITE. As Isaac documents, Facebook has taken measures not only to prevent disinformation and incitement to hateful acts and speech, but also to recognize legitimate satire and irony so as not to filter it out. Still, the problem of blocking legitimate satire persists. What do you think Facebook should do? What do you think humorous content creators (cartoonists, satirists) should do? Write an essay in which you explore possibilities for resolving the issue, and explain your ideas.

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