Satire or ‘fake news’? Fact-checker Snopes can’t tell the difference.

Satire or ‘fake news’? Fact-checker Snopes can’t tell the difference. August 10, 2019
Image via the Babylon Bee

A SPECIALITY underwear shop targeting Mormons has opened in Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. If the venture is successful, ‘Brigham’s Secret’ stores will become a reality in malls and shopping centers all over the country.

The store allows men and women to shop for various temple undergarments, which are designed to offer both maximum comfort and be a constant reminder of the covenants made with God in the temple.

This, folks, is satire. Satire deliciously served up by the satirical news site, the Babylon Bee. The Bee “pokes fun at the quirks of the modern, American Christian community,”according to its blurb for How to Be a Perfect Christian, one of the products it sells.

The Bee has published stories under such clearly satirical headlines as:

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law requiring all Christians ‘to register Bibles of all sizes, shapes, and translation version as ‘assault weapons’.

But Snopes,  a “fact-check” website, is apparently unable to distinguish satire from “fake news”, and has put the Bee in sticky position by questioning its satirical endeavours. Its editor, Adam Ford said in this report:

Instead of merely rating the article ‘false,’ they questioned whether our work qualifies as satire, and even went so far as to suggest that we were deliberately deceiving our readers.

Is this a big deal? Ford says yes:

Basically, they treated us as a source of intentionally misleading fake news, rather than as the legitimate, well-known satire publication that we are. As you know, fake news – which is distinguished from satire by its intent to mislead – was widely considered a serious issue in the last election cycle. As a result, social-media networks like Facebook began partnering with fact-checkers to try and limit the distribution of fake news on their platforms.

Snopes was one of them. At one point, a piece of ours was rated ‘false’ by Snopes, prompting Facebook to threaten us with limitations and demonetization. We made a stink about this, and after some media attention shed light on the problem, Facebook apologized for their handling of the matter and admitted that satire is not the same as fake news.

Ford explained that while his group won that fight, Snopes has initiated a new smear that is:

Both dishonest and disconcerting.

He cited a satirical piece in the Bee based loosely on a claim by a Georgia lawmaker that a man at a store told her to “go back” to where she came from. Later it appeared that the claim was false.

Snopes wrote:

We’re not sure if fanning the flames of controversy and muddying the details of a news story classify an article as ‘satire’.

Ford said:

We have no choice but to take it very seriously. For better or worse, the media, the public, and social networks all look to Snopes for authoritative answers. By lumping us in with fake news and questioning whether we really qualify as satire, Snopes appears to be actively engaged in an effort to discredit and deplatform us.

He said a law firm has been retained to represent the site.

In a commentary in the Washington Examiner, Madeline Fry remarked that if Jonathan Swift :

Wrote ‘A Modest Proposal’ today, Snopes would fact-check it. Never mind that the satirist’s famous 1729 essay is ludicrous enough to make its tongue-in-cheek intentions known. Snopes, ‘the Internet’s definitive fact-checking resource’, would find a way to turn it into a fake news controversy … I hate to break it to the overzealous, partisan fact-checkers of the world, but satire is satire, even if you don’t think it’s funny.

Meanwhile, the Bee has exacted is own revenge on the fact-checker by publishing a satirical article beneath the headline “Snopes Announces Fact-Checked Study Bible“.

Image via the Babylon Bee

The piece says:

The study Bible is designed to undermine your faith at every turn by performing shoddily researched fact checks of every claim the Scriptures make.

“Did Jesus rise from the dead? Fact check: LEGEND,” the notes read in the gospels.

“Is Jesus Christ the Truth? Fact check: FALSE. Snopes is the only verifiable truth,” another callout bubble reads in the Gospel of John.

Jesus’s parables are the target of frequent fact checks in the study Bible, as Snopes authors seem to be unable to tell the difference between Jesus’s obviously allegorical stories and historical narratives. The Bible contains a three-page-long fact check of the story of the prodigal son, for instance, pointing out that no historical evidence was ever found that the character in the parable ever existed.

One well-researched fact check asks whether or not Jesus even existed, concluding that results are “MIXED.” The Snopes Bible points to evidence such as the fact that no one living today has seen Jesus and also that it’d be really inconvenient if His claims about Himself were true.

“If you’ve ever read the Bible and been unsure about what you’re reading, the Snopes Fact Check Study Bible is for you,” said a Snopes spokesperson. “Now you can actually be sure of God’s Word because the infallible Snopes writers are telling you what to believe right there on the page.”

“Is the Snopes Study Bible on sale for $49.99 now? Fact check: TRUE,” the spokesperson concluded.

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  • Jim Jones

    We live in strange times indeed!

  • (((J_Enigma32)))

    The line between satire and fake news isn’t as clear as some might wish it was. I wrote for a website back towards the end of the 2016 election that branded itself as “satire” but very clearly made up fake headlines and such. More pertinently, because it was targeted at a right-wing audience, they gobbled it up; even after we revealed we were ostensibly satire, the right-wing audience still continued to share our stories and treat them as if they were true. Were we fake news or satire, and more importantly, did that distinction even matter anymore?

    And while some instances might be more clearly defined as “satire” than others, even the most outrageous examples are sometimes hard to tell, and gullible people who want to believe will simply read your satire as reinforcement for what they already believe. As a writer, especially one of satire, you have to anticipate that. Far too many lazy people simply slap “Satire” on whatever they spew as a defense of spreading lies, and while I’m not saying the Bee is one of them, that such hucksters exist means that one can never be too sensitive.

    Snopes, ‘the Internet’s definitive fact-checking resource’, would find a way to turn it into a fake news controversy … I hate to break it to the overzealous, partisan fact-checkers of the world, but satire is satire, even if you don’t think it’s funny.

    Of course someone from the Washington Examiner, a right-wing partisan institution would say this. It helps them when they get to tear down fact checkers, since it just further blurs the line between reality and their interpretation of it they keep trying to enforce on the rest of us. This is, after all, the same institution that falsely reported that the New York Times “fed information” to the FBI about Jared Kushner, which caused Trump to go off on a rant earning 20,000 retweets from his credulous supporters.

    They’ve benefited from fake new in the past. Of course they’d attempt to tear down those who reveal it now.

  • Broga

    Are the reports from the USA of Donald Trump’s performance as President fact, satire or fake news?

    Or, in the UK, are the activities of politician Rees Mogg who insists his staff address letters to men using Esq and not Mr. Is that report fact, satire or fake news.

  • JimmieBallgame

    This has already been fixed. Congress quietly passed a law before their break. Trump signed it on his flight from Dayton to El Paso. The law says anything posted as satire must be registered as satire. Anything posted as “Fake News” must be registered as “Fake News”. They must be registered at the Federal Media Watch in Washington, DC. Failure to do so will bring fines of up to $10,000.

    I’m proud to say that I was the very first person to register a post as “Satire”. {It was this one.)

  • persephone

    The U.S. is burning down, and the UK isn’t far behind. Satire and irony have lost their place and their punch. QAnon is proof that there is nothing that some people won’t take seriously.

  • Michael Neville

    I can see how Snopes would be fooled by this bit of satire because Mormons have to buy their magic underwear somewhere. One can’t just walk into Walmart and buy a set of Mormon magic underwear. There are special “garment shops”, usually but not always attached to Mormon temples where the magic underwear can be bought. So while Snopes may have been caught on this particular bit of not particularly funny satire, it’s not as farfetched as some people might think.

  • Freethinker

    And there is no better primer for accepting utter BS as “truth” than religions. Once you accept that an old man in the sky created us from dirt 10000 years ago as a sadistic experiment on His own creations’ actions, with eternal torture as a sign of His true love, you will believe anything. Every conman loves a pre-washed brain.

  • WallofSleep

    They lost a little credibility with me during the campaign for 2016 election when they did the fluffly fact check on Jill Stein and whether or not she’s anti-vaxx (as well as being pro pseudo science on other subjects). They spent a lot of words to basically say “Well, she said she’s not, so that’s that”. Yeah, racists say they aren’t racists all the dang time.

    They completely ignored/omitted all the times she’d made statements on the campaign trail pandering and dog whistling anti-vaxx and psuedo science crowd. Not that I’m ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater or anything, but that was still disappointing.

  • Broga

    The problem is that what is not fake news e.g.Trump’s pronouncements and those of UK types who are similar but not quite so extreme, seems more fake than fake news. Prime example: Trump want’s the clownish Nigel Farage to be the UK Ambassador in the USA. That has to be be fake news? Nope, apparently not. Or perhaps it is? How can we tell.?

  • wannabe

    Or nowadays, “Dear Sir and/or Madam”.

  • wannabe

    It’s “repeated” failure to do so. You’re initially given a warning, delivered by Presidential Tweet.

  • barriejohn

    Quite. Everyone knows that it was 6,000 years ago!

  • barriejohn

    I agree. When you’re first told that Mormons have to wear special “magic underwear” you just can’t believe it, so in the face of that fact the story’s quite believable.

  • rubaxter

    Real shi&#8203te satire if you have to officially tell people it is. That’s what my professors in various Literature courses said, especially the one specifically teaching Satire. A Modest Proposal was outrageous, and was easily recognized as satire, for instance. This was just as easily a news article on some scumbag Bidnessman trying to live off the Booboisie cache from the Victoria’s Secrets brand.

    But, I’m sure the rag appreciates any publicity.

    “No such thing as ‘bad’ publicity.”

  • Michael Neville

    The next time the Babylon Bee decides to print satire they should make a special effort to try to make a specific, funny point.

  • Lurker111

    I once stumbled onto a satire page that Snopes had on its own site. I sent an e-mail suggesting very strongly that they really didn’t want to go there, as Google searches could land people on those pages and people would then misinterpret what Snopes was saying. I didn’t get a satisfying response.

    Seriously, if you’re a site that claims to provide fact-checking, you DON’T parodize yourself on your own site. This is not rocket surgery.

  • barriejohn

    Sadly, few of us are as scintillatingly funny as we imagine. I’ve lost count of the times that I have posted an absolutely hilarious (sic) comment somewhere on the internet only for someone to castigate me for my appalling views!

  • rubaxter

    All you lack is an editor who knows what makes money/gets likes to give you suggested changes.

    The above author(s) allegedly had one of those at least (depending on the number of children the backers needed to find jobs for).

  • mobathome

    Would you have a link to this alleged Snopes rating? I don’t find one in your post, Also, you’re quoting a World Nut Daily article that itself doesn’t have links to this alleged Snopes rating. And I didn’t find a supporting link for this in the Washington Examiner article you link. Are you writing this as a joke?

  • Barry Duke

    No, not written as a joke, but I omitted to provide a link to Snopes’s take on the Georgia lawmaker report. Here it is:

    It says: “The Babylon Bee has managed to confuse readers with its brand of satire in the past. This particular story was especially puzzling for some readers, however, as it closely mirrored the events of a genuine news story, with the big exception of the website’s changing the location. “