Fake News or Humor: Flash!

You’re writing humor and let’s say you want your piece to be recognized as funny. You don’t want the pitfall of being misunderstood as fake news. But you don’t want to be too obvious. An ethical solution exists.

Write your HTML page so that search engines display that it’s really just meant as satire or parody or whichever slice of humor gets you. Then, visitors will see what they’re in for before opening your page. This is not a checkbox; you can describe your content any way you like.

Real-world examples exist. A humorist for The New Yorker magazine wrote an article that said that President Trump had granted American citizenship to President Obama, who was, according to the humorist, emotionally relieved to have finally had his dream fulfilled. Of course, this was during the Presidential campaign, and the magazine, usually published weekly and with a large nationwide circulation for some decades, has a good reputation for reporting, analysis, and fact-checking. It would not want readers to get confused about its intention with humor. This is what they put into their HTML meta description: “Andy Borowitz jokes that President Barack Obama was overwhelmed with gratitude when he was granted citizenship by Donald Trump.” And Google displayed that in its search results

You can easily do something equally useful.

Tagging as Nonfiction: False, True, Stretch, or Mix

A new HTML meta element (posted since ) is explicitly for fiction, nonfiction, and the like. A spec is online for it. Search engines can use it through an algorithm to discover whether a page is offered as fiction or nonfiction. Add one per page, as follows (replace the ellipsis):

<meta name="nonfiction" content=". . . .">

The values are these:

If the page is fiction, set nonfiction as false:

<meta name="nonfiction" content="false">

If the page is nonfiction, set nonfiction as true:

<meta name="nonfiction" content="true">

If the page is technically nonfiction but should not be taken literally as such, like for sarcastic exaggeration that is not exactly false, set nonfiction as stretch:

<meta name="nonfiction" content="stretch">

If the page is substantially a mixture of fiction and nonfiction, set nonfiction as mix:

<meta name="nonfiction" content="mix">

Tagging for Description

Use the HTML meta element for “description” to write out, in your own words, your description of your page’s content. When Google displays a snippet under the title and the URL, and you have a meta description tag, Google usually uses that. It seems to work best if you keep it to being within 143 characters long (including spaces and punctuation), roughly twenty words of common English. (The length accepted by Google may have doubled, but consider other search engines, which some people use.) Each page should have a different description; don’t write one description for the whole website.

A few other meta tags should get the same description text. These are named “dc.description”, “dcterms.description”, and “twitter:description” (200-character maximum); and one more, which does not have a name but has the property “og:description” and may be used by Facebook. For all of them, the description is the value of the content attribute. They all go into the head element. I put them all next to each other for my convenience, but you don’t have to.

I don’t know how other search engines deal with this, but it’s likely some other engines also show description texts you’d supply this way.

You can use these as models for your head element (replace the ellipses):


<meta name="description" content=". . . .">

<meta name="dc.description" content=". . . .">

<meta name="dcterms.description" content=". . . .">

<meta name="twitter:description" content=". . . .">

<meta property="og:description" content=". . . .">