The Babylon Bee and Snopes Feud Over Fact-Checking Satire
Babylon Be(e) Worked Up
August 2nd, 2019 – The Babylon Bee and Snopes.com have had their own debate this week alongside the 78 candidates running for the Democratic nomination. The two outlets have had their fair share of feuds over the year, but this one stung a little deeper as leaders at the satirical Christian website accused the fact-checking group of intentionally trying to delegitimize them following an article about a lawmaker being told to “go back to her country.”
The Babylon Bee satirized a story about Georgia state rep Erica Thomas who previously claimed that a man used a racist line, inspired by President Trump, while she was shopping at a local Publix grocery store. The story came under scrutiny as the lawmaker had to walk back parts of her account. When the Bee took hold of it, they changed the location to Chick-fil-A and decided that an employee actually told Thomas “my pleasure.”
“In light of the information, Thomas walked back her claim a bit,” the Babylon Bee article read. ‘He definitely said something to me. I initially thought it was the ‘go back to your country’ thing, but now that I think about it, it may have been ‘my pleasure.’ Even after the clarification, the Chick-fil-A employee still wrote Thomas an apology letter for any misunderstanding, and the restaurant manager gave her coupons for a week’s worth of free chicken biscuits.”
The satirical article was published on July 22nd. Two days later, Snopes released a fact-check titled “Did a Georgia Lawmaker Claim a Chick-fil-A Employee Told Her to Go Back to Her Country?” Almost a week later, they were forced to update their rebuttal following pushback from the Bee.
Initially, Snopes assigned a much more deceptive, opportunistic role on the part of The Babylon Bee. Their subhead even questioned their categorization as a satirical site by stating “We’re not sure if fanning the flames of controversy and muddying the details of a news story classify an article as ‘satire.'”
Bee founder Adam Ford took to Twitter last week to breakdown the absurdity and danger of fact-checking a satirical piece in a lengthy thread.
Just in the subtitle of this “objective fact check” they’ve veered toward pronouncing a moral judgment, assigning motives, and presuming to dictate — to one of the most popular satire sites on the planet — what does and does not count as satire.— Adam Ford (@Adam4d) July 25, 2019
We “published a fictionalized version of the story”? That’s certainly an interesting way of saying we satirized an absurd real-life event. You know, that thing that all satirical outlets do.— Adam Ford (@Adam4d) July 25, 2019
A clumsy mistake or an incompetent writer are insufficient explanations for publishing something like this when you position yourself as an unbiased, stalwart arbiter of truth and presume to wield the influence that comes along with that title.— Adam Ford (@Adam4d) July 25, 2019
Ford also took a look at how Snopes has fact-checked other satirical sites in the past. When it came to The Onion, they were very clear in their description to label the outlet as satire and to not question their motivations.
They’ve ascribed dark motives to the Bee while laughing off Onion fact-checks like HAHAA GUYS, “of course” it’s satire! OF COURSE! Some readers just got confused, y’know!— Adam Ford (@Adam4d) July 25, 2019
Snopes updated their article nearly a week after publication following continued outcry from The Babylon Bee.
In an Editor’s Note, they addressed the controversy and clarified their position stating:
“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.”
Despite the clarification, many online spectators have engaged in conspiracy theories that Snopes is intentionally targeting the Christian site in an attempt to have readers flag their stories as “fake news” on Facebook. Snopes partnered with the social media site in 2017 to assist the platform in flagging misinformation. The two entities have since parted ways, but that hasn’t stopped critics from questioning the tactics.
David Mikkelson, founder of Snopes, flatly denied the allegations and put the issue back on The Babylon Bee.
“We don’t have the means or the ability to do that, he told BuzzFeed News. “We have no way of limiting the reach on a particular platform. The question you should be asking is not: ‘why is Snopes addressing material from a particular site so often?’ But, ‘what is it about that site that makes its content trigger the fact-check threshold?’
“I’m flattered that people seem to think we wield such power, he added. “The purpose is to inform people, not punish the people who are spreading it.”
While the higher-ups at The Babylon Bee have issued statements to their over half a million followers and given interviews to mainstream networks, they’ve also dealt with the satire-less allegations the best way they know how. Bruce Dickinson needs more cowbell; Babylon Bee needs more satire.
Snopes Rates Babylon Bee World's Most Accurate News Sourcehttps://t.co/LbnWL0pYfX— The Babylon Bee (@TheBabylonBee) July 25, 2019
Snopes Rolls Out New Opinion Check Featurehttps://t.co/p24qBtL5ri— The Babylon Bee (@TheBabylonBee) July 25, 2019
Hey @snopes let us know if we got any facts wrong on this one. Did our best but sometimes errors slip by.— The Babylon Bee (@TheBabylonBee) July 25, 2019
Snopes Launches New Website To Fact-Check Snopes Fact Checkshttps://t.co/wEBAfLqPrs— The Babylon Bee (@TheBabylonBee) July 26, 2019
Do you think a fact-checking site should be covering a satirical story?