Writer Tries to Fact-Check Snopes, and Fails Epically
We live in the age of misinformation. There’s no way to deny it or to avoid it. As the Internet opens its users to a myriad of vital information, it has also exposed them to hyper-partisanship, ideological rants, and outright lies that some Internet sites offer. The situation has gotten so bad that even mainstream media outlets (print, broadcast and the Internet) have been affected by the misinformation propagated by numerous ideological and fake news sites.
To make matters worse, the surge of these faux news sites have attracted millions of consumers who are willing to digest anything that affirms their beliefs, and reject anything that challenges them. And in the midst of all this, fact-checking sites have come under fire for doing what they were supposed to do: fact-check stories and claims made on various websites.
Snopes.com is one of those respected fact-checking sites. Some may say it’s the granddaddy of all Internet fact-checking sites, considering it was one of the first. They started by investigating urban myths and rumors and later expanded into the fields of gossip, politics, sports, and other items commonly spread throughout social media and chat room forums.
For the most part, they’ve gained the respect of major newspapers and Internet news sites. Also, anyone who ever had a question about a story could utilize their services to get clarification on its validity.
However, being good at your job also means you’ll gain enemies. And over the last few years, the people behind the site have been subjected to condemnation by writers and editors of various outlets. Even writers on this site, Hubpages.com, have taken notice and have attempted to ridicule them in every way imaginable.
Recently, a disgruntled Hubber (who will be known as the Writer throughout the article) wrote an article claiming that Snopes.com was biased and unreliable. She based it on what she claimed was “research” and submitted examples of what she believed were of stories “they got wrong.”
She intimated that Snopes had hidden nefarious intentions. Were they covering up for government officials? Were they protecting liberal policies? Or were they trying to interject their “liberal” bias in their stories? These seem to be the questions she wanted desperately to answer as “yes”.
But, in doing so, she may have exposed her own bias in an article that erred in many ways. She made bold claims, but backed it with questionable sources that backed her own political beliefs. On top of that, she tied it up in an article that sounded more like a rant rather than a well researched story.
In understanding where she got it wrong, one has to look at the organization of her article, her claims and the method of research (if she really used any) she used. But, be forewarned. The path to proving her wrong was tedious, considering all the twist and turns this article took (and by tedious, I mean four pages of notes on claims she got wrong).
The Article's Appearance
Let’s start off with the article at a glance: it seems to deliver on the promise that research has been done. Although there are no links to other sites (at least not until the very end of the article), there are several references to news sites, blogs and videos streaming sites. This bodes well for her argument.
However, when one starts to peruse it, the seemingly solid evidence suddenly looks very porous.
To be frank, the article is not an easy read. Although the Writer claimed that the article was to be based on her “findings,” her personal opinions invaded every sentence and paragraph. There’s no doubt she has a lot of disdain for the fact-checking site and it showed with every accusation. Eventually, the article devolved into an angry rant that was barely comprehensible. This was not objective reporting at its finest.
As mentioned, the Writer wanted to make clear she researched Snopes in order to come to her conclusion. However, the research was critically flawed. Much of the information on Snopes and its founders were outdated, cherry-picked, or simply wrong (something that will be pointed out later in the article). The sites and blogs she used to support her finding were notoriously unreliable, and video segments were either vague or came from conspiracy theory sites that have been debunked by (you guessed it) Snopes, The Skeptics Dictionary, Rationalwiki and other fact-checking and “skeptics” sites.
There are samples included, too. In this case, three stories covered (and debunked) by Snopes were used. Again, her opinions make their way into these stories. And how she does it left a lot to the imagination.
Examining The Claims with Realities
As mentioned, collecting her claims and verifying them was exhausting. She packed a lot in one article. This included three stories supposedly published on Snopes. Also, she made some accusations against the creators of the site, David and Barbara Mekkelson, which included such” important” topics such as where they came from and what their supposed intent for the site was.
So how do these claims stack up against reality? Well, let’s take a look:
Claim #1: The Mekkelsons are the only ones that run the site, are in it to make money, and operate out of San Fernando Valley.
Reality: It’s true that a husband and wife team started Snopes; however, they aren’t the only reporters on the sites. They’ve employed others. In fact, all one has to do is look at the bylines of the stories on their site and notice that there are different names.
Other information about the two is outdated. Recently, the British news service, The Guardian, interviewed David Mekkelson: Here’s what they discovered:
1. David Mekkelson still owns and operates Snopes; however, his wife, Barbara, stopped contributing to the site several years ago.
2. They now live in Calabasas. Although not far from Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and located in a rustic community between the Santa Monica Mountains and the outlying hills to the valley, it is far from being in the boonies (the writer made a comment in a forum that they came from some “hick” place. And when corrected that they came from San Fernando Valley, she seemingly didn’t understand or realize that it’s part of the city of Los Angeles and has more than a million people living there).
Now, let’s look at the part of this claim that they were in it to “make money”; this was vague. She never gave an explanation why she implied this and why this was a bad thing. Also, why was this different from other sites out there? Also, is it wrong to make money off such sites?
One can only speculate what she meant by that statement. The best evidence for what she was implying (or trying to) came from a video she attached near the bottom of the article entitled: Snopes is a Hoax. In it, the narrator claimed that the founders admitted their site was a hoax and that it was a money-making scheme based on the use of a discontinued software from Microsoft. The information is sketchy, at best and there’s no evidence that David admitted that Snopes was a hoax. Also, little is known about Frontview.org – the distributor (and possibly creator) of the video, except that their other offerings were conspiracy theories centering on the tech world.
If fact-checking sites examined this they would have labeled it “unproven” or “not verified”. Better yet, it doesn’t add any credence to the Writer’s claim.
Claim #2: Snopes has a liberal bias
Reality: If the writer happened to have visited the Snopes website she may have seen various stories to click on. One story was titled: “Did Donald Trump Say that Republicans are Dumb?” If she clicked on the title and opened the story she would have seen – in big red letters – the word “False”.
There’s another story about Ted Nugent, the conservative and outspoken rocker. This story pertained to what he did to earn a deferment from being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. He supposedly used drugs, didn’t shower or change his pants (in which he defecated into). They labeled the story “Unproven”.
Even Fact Check.org checked out this allegation and discovered that every story – whether dealing with liberals or conservative personalities or agendas were given the same treatment (or as they called, straight poker-faced).
It’s true that most of the fact-checking has been done on conservative politicians and right-wing news sites; however, this is due to the fact that there more of them out there on the Internet actively spreading their messages.
On top of that, The Guardian interview revealed that David – who has stated in the past that he is non-partisan and has not endorsed anyone for public office – was baffled by a slew of angry e-mails from people accusing him of being biased.
The information given here is not to state that David is unbiased. There’s no concrete evidence of that, just as there’s no concrete evidence on the contrary that he is. Again, the liberal bias claim come from the Writer is based on several questionable blogs and news websites she used in her “research.”
She made phone calls to the primary source. In the age of Internet writing, this is actually becoming a dying art
Claim #3: They Google all their research
Reality: First, they are a website and look into rumors and claims that are exchanged on blogs, news outlets, and social media sites. Second, the use of Google is only one tool they use. And finally, if the writer actually read any of their articles closely, she’d realize that they make phone calls to people involved in certain stories, use Internet tools to verify the date and/or authenticity of photos (since many of the claims they look at either based on photos, videos, or memes). In fact, in several articles – including one that the Writer uses (more on that later) – the Snopes reporter stated that she made a phone call to an official involved in the story. Let’s repeat that one more time: She made phone calls to the primary source. In the age of Internet writing, this is actually becoming a dying art.
Claim #4: A picture of the Mekkelsons definitively reveals that the two are pranksters (with other choice being hucksters)
Realty: This was a turn for the bizarre. How does a picture taken for NPR (National Public Radio) online news outlet become a smoking gun? Did David’s grin or the image of Barbara laughing reveal their true intent? Or maybe it’s the cat that photo-bombed it? There was something there that the Writer saw, but she never elaborated on it.
And now, for the most controversial claim.
Claim #5: The writer claims “Snopes doesn’t Think anal and/or oral penetration” of a 5-year-old is rape.
Reality: This is an absolute lie! There are multiple levels of falsehood in this statement. First off, no one connected with Snopes – including David Mekkelson -- ever uttered this as an opinion. Second, it is a horrendously misconstrued -- and manipulated – statement derived from a comment made by a Twin Falls, Idaho prosecutor that had been interviewed by a Snopes reporter. And, finally, this particular false quote may have come from a Breitbart.com article that was written by right-wing pundit, Pam Gellar (and if that name sounds familiar, she was the one who hosted a competition to draw Muhammad, which drew the ire of two would-be terrorists).
The story in question – which occurred in early June 2016 -- involved an incident in Twin Falls Idaho, in which three “Middle Eastern boys” were involved in a situation with a 5-year-old girl that may have involved “contact of a sensitive nature."
Although the prosecutor stated in the interview that this was not a rape case, rumors around town (and possibly fueled by a conspiracy theory Internet site) spread that the boys were Syrian Refugees (actually one was Iraqi and the other was a Sudanese) that had sexually assaulted the girl at knife point.
Due to the fact that everyone involved in the incident were minors, the case was sealed. This didn’t sit well with residents who believed that local government was trying to protect the supposed newly placed “Syrian refugees”.
The involvement of the unhinged site conspiracy site InfoWars, Breitbart.com and Gellar (an ardent anti-Muslim activist) made matters worse. As of this writing, this is still an ongoing situation, despite the case being sealed.
This story also represents a new low for the Writer of the “research” into Snopes. In fact, the rest of the article fell apart after that moment. And, most importantly it destroyed the Writer’s fragile credibility on this matter.
“There were no Syrians involved, there was no knife involved, there was no gang-rape,”— Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loab June 2016
In truth there was really no need to go beyond this blatant lie. As mentioned, what was left of the article’s fragile structure and argument came crashing down. Sure, there were other claims such as a reporter from Health Nut News that felt slighted by Snopes and a video from InfoWars, but it really didn’t matter. The rest of the article was too convoluted to read as she mentioned people with their names doing or complaining about something. One can only surmise she was referring to the series of videos she posted near the end of the article.
Did She Do Any Real Research?
The Writer constantly wanted to remind the readers that she did her research to expose Snopes as an unworthy and politically biased site. However, in her attempt to do this she used sites that were ideologically slanted. The Twin Falls story was reported by local media, but a quick glance at Google revealed that nearly all the sites, if not all, that were giving coverage on the story were right-wing leaning publications. Even the white supremacy site, StormFront got involved. After all, this story was being connected to the Syrian refugee crisis and the possible placement of those refugees throughout the United States.
Most importantly, however, there was one link – and vital information – missing; there appeared to be no evidence that Writer actually visited Snopes, at all. She never commented on the web site’s structure its methodology of ranking stories, or what was actually reported on the Twin Falls incident.
Instead, she borrowed heavily from Breitbart.com and Gellar’s “research” to make her case. And in many ways, she revealed her own bias for what she considered to be “news.”
Surprisingly, if the writer really wanted compelling evidence, she could’ve done better research than what she did. In doing so she may have discovered one of two false stories on the site (something that David did admit to it, just in case people didn’t catch on to the numerous “Easter Eggs” or clues purposely inserted to reveal its invalidation). The stories were meant to be a warning to readers to always be wary of what they read and to always be skeptical.
While Snopes is usually a great source for fact-checking rumors, chain e-mails, memes and other questionable news stories, they aren’t the only ones.
Incredibly, the writer of the article never got that far in her research. She had pre-conceived notions, used material she believed was genuine – as well as affirmed her own bias, and allowed her unmitigated anger to control the ebb and flow of her writing to turn it into a rambling wreck.
Misinformation is widespread on the World Wide Web. But ultimately it’s the job of the readers to find and assess the information for its validity. Unfortunately, the writer didn’t realize this: she was too busy looking for affirmation, rather than information.
The Writer Should Have Used this Tutorial
© 2016 Dean Traylor