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How a satire site gave birth to a fake Reba McEntire-Taylor Swift feud that crossed the internet

Christopher Blair, a self-proclaimed professional troll, said the fact that a satire article he wrote ended up drawing attention underscored problems with how people consume news.
TODAY - Season 72
Reba McEntire on NBC's "TODAY" show on Oct. 10.Nathan Congleton / NBC via Getty Images file

At first blush, a headline Reba McEntire posted to her Instagram account looked like a salacious tidbit from a gossip magazine. 

The headline claimed that McEntire, who performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the Super Bowl last month, called Taylor Swift an “entitled brat” for “laughing and drinking” during the performance. After McEntire called out the headline to her 2.6 million Instagram followers and praised Swift, several news outlets published stories saying McEntire had used her post to quash so-called rumors of a feud.

In her post, McEntire offered some good advice: “Please don’t believe everything you see on the Internet.”

The headline was from a satire account on Facebook created by self-proclaimed professional troll Christopher Blair. 

He said she took it too seriously.

“I have to believe it was just a knee-jerk reaction or something. She figured it was horrible, and she reacted,” Blair said of McEntire’s post. “On today’s internet, you have to be better than that.” 

A representative for McEntire declined to comment.

Blair runs some of the most successful satire pages on the internet meant to target conservatives who don’t bother to click beyond his fictional and farcical headlines. His main Facebook account, America’s Last Line of Defense, is part of a network of parody accounts including the one called America Loves Liberty, on which he published the McEntire article.

Those pages link back to his satire news website, The Dunning-Kruger Times, which hosts all manner of fake, newsy articles, almost all of them under the byline “Flagg Eagleton — Patriot.” On his pages, accounts and website, Blair cautions readers that “nothing on this page is real.”

Although some might find Blair’s methods questionable, he stays within the bounds of Facebook’s rules by disclosing at the top of the page that nothing he writes is real — though that does little to dissuade many people from taking his articles seriously. 

The pages and McEntire’s post offer a sense of the ongoing issues with social media, misinformation and disinformation. Many experts have continued warning about the ease with which fake news spreads online — especially in the lead-up to the presidential election. 

Although Blair’s posts tend to be generally benign fodder for quick-fingered Facebook users to share, they show how easily some people can fall for disinformation.

Meanwhile, Meta has in recent years turned Facebook and its powerful recommendation system away from mainstream news outlets.

Blair calls his satire pages a “social experiment,” one he uses for a very particular purpose: to trick conservatives, particularly “geriatric Trumpsters,” as he calls them, who are too eager to dunk on the left. 

“The ultimate goal of the operation is truth, believe it or not,” he said. “The people who tend to believe these stories are on the right, and the more the story confirms their bias, the less they need to prove that it’s true.”

But Blair said his goal isn’t necessarily just to make a statement about mis- and disinformation. 

“The goal is it’s a liberal troll honey pot that’s a lot of fun, that makes a bunch of money,” he said with a laugh. “I try to be as obvious as possible about it so that people like Reba McEntire, when they come across something like this, they say, ‘Jesus Christ who said that about me?’ and they click and they say, ‘Oh, these idiots.’”

Blair, a lifelong Democrat who created his page in January 2016, said people’s eagerness to share his content without fact-checking has made him wildly successful. He said engagement remains high — his most recent Facebook post, which jokingly claimed singer Garth Brooks “looked tired, depressed, and at least 40 or 50 pounds overweight” during a recent performance, got nearly 800 comments in 18 hours. He said his page at one point could bring in $15,000 in a good month.

The issue of people taking misinformation at face value is now well-recognized. A 2021 study conducted by a group of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Regina in Canada, University of Exeter Business School in the United Kingdom and the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico found that 51.2% of participants in an experiment shared misinformation online because they weren’t paying attention to accuracy — not because they couldn’t tell the difference between real and fake news. 

“People are often capable of distinguishing between true and false news content, but fail to even consider whether content is accurate before they share it on social media,” study co-author Gordon Pennycook, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Regina, told Nieman Lab in 2021. 

Blair said he was surprised not only by McEntire’s response to the story but also by how many news outlets ran stories about McEntire’s squashing rumors of a feud with Swift without disclosing that she was responding to a parody headline.

“If everybody who read one of my headlines, who appears on my page, complained about it and told their fans that it wasn’t true, you would never hear about anything but me,” Blair said. “I’d be in the news nonstop.”