There are numerous fact-checking websites out there, and despite many of them having a left-leaning bias, the sites do a decent job of debunking fake news, or "news stories" that are complete fabrications. For example, Snopes debunked a meme that "quoted" Donald Trump as saying if he were to run for the presidency, he'd run as a Republican because Republican voters are "the dumbest group of voters in the country."
But while the fact-checking site has done good work in the past, it made a rather embarrassing mistake this past week.
Snopes fact-checked a satirical article posted by The Babylon Bee, a Christian satire publication that covers Christian living, celebrities, church, lifestyle, sports, and entertainment with good-natured humor. The site, known for headlines such as "Nation That Calls Trump 'Hitler' Demands He Take All Guns Away" and "Family Prays At McDonald's, Food Miraculously Transforms Into Chick-Fil-A," received a false rating for a recent article titled "CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication."
Did this article really need a fact check? Of course not.
While proving the story to be "false," Snopes acknowledges the website is satire but claims some people "interpreted it literally."
On 1 March 2018, the Babylon Bee web site published an article reporting that CNN had made a significant investment in heavy machinery to assist their journalists “spin” the news they report.
Although it should have been obvious that the Babylon Bee piece was just a spoof of the ongoing political brouhaha over alleged news media “bias” and “fake news,” some readers missed that aspect of the article and interpreted it literally. But the site’s footer gives away the Babylon Bee’s nature by describing it as “Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire,” and the site has been responsible for a number of other (usually religious-themed) spoofs that have been mistaken for real news articles.
Wait, what? Some people actually thought CNN bought a washing machine to spin news? Whether one acknowledges CNN's left-leaning bias or not, I refuse to believe people are that clueless. Maybe I'm wrong. But is there something else behind Snopes labeling the article as "fake news"?
In a tweet from Adam Ford, The Babylon Bee's founder, it appears there were some consequences from having his site's story labeled as false by Snopes. Facebook flagged it.
Really, Facebook?? pic.twitter.com/HEtBc7C0Gz— Adam Ford (@Adam4d) March 2, 2018
According to a report from The Washington Free Beacon, Facebook did state the flagging of the article was a system error and that it won't count against the site's domain. The Free Beacon also noted this isn't the first time Snopes has fact-checked the satirical site. Hilariously, in a jab at Snopes, The Babylon Bee published an article in October 2017 titled, "Snopes Launches New Website To Fact-Check Snopes Fact Checks."
Despite the apology from Facebook, the notification Ford received is still telling. It shows that Facebook is using the ratings from independent fact checkers, like Snopes, to flag posts and determine what kind of content it will support or promote on its social media platform. If Snopes were to continue to suggest a satirical site or a site it doesn't like is "fake news," Facebook can limit how that site's content gets distributed, monetized, and determine if one of its articles is safe for advertisers.
There's another potentially troubling feature that the social media giant has implemented recently. Underneath certain stories in a person's news feed, one might find "related articles." According to Facebook, this occurs if a story or topic is popular or if the original article has been fact-checked by a third-party. For example, under an article from a conservative website like, say, National Review, one could see an article from the Associated Press on the same story. This may create unwarranted distrust in certain websites.
Facebook is employing these methods in an attempt to prevent the spread of fake news, but conservatives worry their content and viewership will take a hit.
While these independent, "non-partisan," fact-checkers do their jobs right most of the time, other times, they get it wrong. This will be just one more thing conservatives will need to monitor to make sure they're being fairly heard.
I wanted to end this piece by making a joke about Snopes fact-checking The Onion, but apparently, they've done that too.