This article has been changed since its original publication.
If anyone still held out hope that Snopes had no left-wing bias whatsoever and only existed to debunk fake news along with wild internet rumors, the “fact-checking” site’s shameless attack on the satirical news outlet The Babylon Bee should bury that inkling six feet under a pile “False” ratings.
Weeks after The Babylon Bee obtained legal representation against the fact-checking site for unfairly rating their openly satirical articles and for suggesting that the outlet deliberately misleads their readers, Snopes released a report on Friday justifying its attack on the Bee by suggesting that Republicans are too stupid to know the difference between fake news and satire.
“Our team of communication researchers has spent years studying misinformation, satire and social media,” the report begins. “Over the last several months, we’ve surveyed Americans’ beliefs about dozens of high-profile political issues. We identified news stories – both true and false – that were being shared widely on social media. We discovered that many of the false stories weren’t the kind that were trying to intentionally deceive their readers; they actually came from satirical sites, and many people seemed to believe them.”
“The truth is, understanding online political satire isn’t easy,” it continues. “Many satirical websites mimic the tone and appearance of news sites. You have to be familiar with the political issue being satirized. You have to understand what normal political rhetoric looks like, and you have to recognize exaggeration. Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to mistake a satirical message for a literal one.”
Of course, in an attempt to feign objectivity, Snopes first notes that people have been fooled by The Onion and Stephen Colbert’s caricature of a conservative on “The Colbert Report” before then sticking the knife straight into The Babylon Bee and twisting it.
Our study on misinformation and social media lasted six months. Every two weeks, we identified 10 of the most shared fake political stories on social media, which included satirical stories. Others were fake news reports meant to deliberately mislead readers.
We then asked a representative group of over 800 Americans to tell us if they believed claims based on those trending stories. By the end of the study, we had measured respondents’ beliefs about 120 widely shared falsehoods.
Satirical articles like those found on The Babylon Bee frequently showed up in our survey. In fact, stories published by The Bee were among the most shared factually inaccurate content in almost every survey we conducted. On one survey, The Babylon Bee had articles relating to five different falsehoods.
For each claim, we asked people to tell us whether it was true or false and how confident they were in their belief. Then we computed the proportion of Democrats and of Republicans who described these statements as “definitely true.”
If we zero in on The Babylon Bee, a few patterns stand out.
The article then yields to a nifty little graph that shows Republicans believed some of the stories put out by The Babylon Bee over Democrats by an average margin of 10%.
Take a look:
The article then directs some attention over to The Onion, though it receives nowhere near the amount scrutiny that was heaped upon The Babylon Bee.
“Our surveys also featured nine falsehoods that emerged from The Onion,” the article says. “Here, Democrats were more often fooled, though they weren’t quite as credulous.”
The margin of Democrats who believed The Onion stories versus Republicans averaged at about 5%.
Snopes’ attempt to appear like an unbiased fact-checker fails in light of the fact that the outlet used its bully power to silence The Babylon Bee and discredit them on multiple occasions, such as when Facebook issued a warning to the satirical site after a “False” rating from Snopes.
Facebook later issued The Babylon Bee an apology and ended its partnership with Snopes nearly a year later. But nevertheless, Snopes persisted.
Rather than just simply rate stories from The Babylon Bee as “Satire” or leave them alone for people to discover on their own, Snopes took the fight one step further when it publicly accused The Babylon Bee of using satire as a cover to deliberately spread fake news.
“We’re not sure if fanning the flames of controversy and muddying the details of a news story classify an article as ‘satire,'” Snopes stated in a post that has now been corrected. “The Babylon Bee has managed to fool readers with its brand of satire in the past.”
After severe backlash online, Snopes edited the most disparaging parts of the post and left an “Editor’s Note” asserting that readers misinterpreted their words:
Editors’ Note: Some readers interpreted wording in a previous version of this fact check as imputing deceptive intent on the part of Babylon Bee in its original satirical piece about Georgia state Rep. Erica Thomas, and that was not the editors’ aim. To address any confusion, we have revised some of the wording mostly for tone and clarity. We are in the process of pioneering industry standards for how the fact-checking industry should best address humor and satire”.
In the wake of that controversy, Snope immediately changed its rating system to have a “Labeled Satire” option while flipping the previous “False” ratings on the Bee to reflect that. It at least appeared to settle the matter, and then they tweeted this:
In response, people on social media, of course, have been mercilessly roasting Snopes for clearly having a vendetta against The Babylon Bee.
“Find something in your life you hate as much as some schmuck at Snopes hates the Babylon Bee,” tweeted Sonny Bunch.
“Snopes thinks Spinal Tap is a real band and Brawndo is a real sports drink,” tweeted Sean Davis.
“Fact checks by Snopes regarding the Babylon Bee were among the most like a stalker-ex-girlfriend of any fact-checking content found on the Internet,” said one Twitter user.
“Fascinating. The Onion has been doing this same thing since 1988 and your ‘unbiased’ fact-checking website has chosen to critique a 3 year old satire outlet as problematic instead,” said another user.
“Sometimes satire is easy to spot, says Snopes, sometimes not, which is apparently why they fact checked whether CNN actually purchased a wash machine to spin the news,” said another.
NOTE: The original headline said Snopes “justifies flagging satire with ‘false’ ratings,” that was subsequently changed to reflect the fact that Snopes created a “Labeled Satire” rating following its dispute with The Babylon Bee.