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That time Y100 thought satire site The Plantain was real

It was only a matter of time.

On Monday Y100 fell for a satirical (read: fake) article announcing that Miami-Dade had given up on trying to stop texting while driving. Instead, it would create a special lane on the Dolphin Expressway for texters… with bumpers.

The source of the misinformation? The satirical website The Plantain, launched earlier this year by local attorney Justin Wales.

A fictitious transit official says:

“Our roads are filled with millennials raised in front of a cellphone screen. We cannot realistically expect these young drivers not to text and drive,” said Ms. Hinga. “The bumpered texting lane is our attempt to mitigate the dangers of texting while driving and is a plan that we believe will save thousands of lives.”

This is not exactly true.

The New Tropic caught up with Wales, who is an attorney at Carlton Fields by day, to find out what he thinks about his website’s unintentional punking of Y100.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

How long did you expect it to take for someone big like this to fall for one of your stories?

I didn’t expect for it to happen as quickly as it did and I think one of the reasons why is because I try to purposely craft the articles so that they are absurd. It’s no fun to trick someone with a lie. What’s nice about it is taking a real life situation and making it so absurd that it gets a conversation started or gets you to think about things in a different way.

It got people talking about two important issues: One: how we manage our roads in South Florida and more importantly why you shouldn’t be texting and driving.

Has this happened before at a smaller scale?

I think there’s always been someone who didn’t get it, there’s always been someone who had a comment.
The article about the Herald dropping its vowels in order to cut costs, that one received a lot of attention from actual real-life journalists in India and there were dozens and dozens of comments I read from professionals that just completely believed it.

One woman, a journalism professor in Calcutta [said that she]… predicted several years ago in a lecture that eventually the English language would become chicken scratch and hieroglyphics and she felt this article was proving her hypothesis. That one was by far the most shocking. These are professionals.

How did this go down?

Someone at Y100 saw it on Twitter or Facebook, thought “This is something we could talk about, posted it online, realized it was satire, and realized they could use it to start a conversation.” …

I think any time you make a joke on a very large scale, there’s going to be a certain percentage of the population that doesn’t get it. When you start attracting the attention of other media entities… and they don’t get the joke and pass it along to hundreds of thousands of people, it’s expected.

I read an article about North Korea looking at a fake article about Kim Jung-Un about how he won person of the year or most handsome man and they said “Look at our great leader.”… It’s just kind of human nature for people to not get it,  which makes it more fun for the people who do.

Do you worry at all that it’s dangerous to be publishing fake news in a city where satire is so believable?

I think satire is very important part of our country’s culture and I think it’s a wonderful thing protected by the first amendment, which in my day job is something I think and care deeply about. I see The Plantain as an outlet: “How do I talk about the issues I want to talk about and my home in a way that’s interesting to me?”

It’s through… getting a conversation started by making people laugh and question what they see. I’m not a journalist, I’m a comedian.