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Is Snopes okay?

Why the hell is a media watchdog organization doing fact checks of satire in the first place? Are they going to set the record straight on A Modest Proposal next?
Libby Emmons and Barrett Wilson Montreal, QC

It really seems like Snopes is not okay. In 2019, Snopes fact-checked satirical site The Onion once. Already this year, Snopes fact-checked The Babylon Bee a total of six times. These fact checks of The Babylon Bee read like satire themselves. Why the hell is a media watchdog organization doing fact checks of satire in the first place? Are they going to set the record straight on A Modest Proposal next?

The Babylon Bee ran a piece called Georgia Lawmaker Claims Chick-Fil-A Employee Told Her To Go Back To Her Country, Later Clarifies He Actually Said ‘My Pleasure’, a reference to the weird story where Georgia State Rep. Erica Thomas reported that she was “scared for her life” during a recent grocery store encounter with a man who yelled “you need to go back where you came from.” This story was elevated because of Trump’s notorious tweets about the group of four freshmen congresswomen colleagues nicknamed “the squad.” But Thomas’ story turned out to be not one of xenophobia, but of a guy who was super pissed that she had 15 items in the 10 items or less checkout lane.

Were people really confused by this obviously humorous take on a silly, nonsense story that had mainstream media buzzing meaninglessly for days? The story about Thomas was a non-story. It was a supermarket infraction. There is no investigation, there are no charges. Yet 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.” The controversy is whether or not 15 items should be allowed in the 10 items or less lane. Or maybe it was that tensions are running so high that people assume the worst possible intentions from every stranger they meet.

Is Snopes a fact check site or a site that judges satire? Snopes classifies the piece as “junk news,” but it’s not news, it’s satire. That means it’s a joke. Snopes was founded to investigate “folklore, urban legends, hoaxes, memes, and rumours on the internet,” and has been doing so “for more than 25 years.” They are (or were) the go-to site to try to find out what’s real and what’s not. So why does Snopes so consistently harangue The Babylon Bee?

The Babylon Bee doesn’t purport to be anything other than it is. It’s like The Onion, but instead of stories like “Local Man Unsure If Woman Type Of Lesbian Who Only Dates Women,” which arguably can be confusing these days, they veer more toward political rather than cultural humour.

The obviously satirical “Ocasio-Cortez Appears On ‘The Price Is Right,’ Guesses Everything Is Free” from The Babylon Bee prompted Snopes to fire back “Might be hard to ‘come on down’ to ‘The Price is Right’ if that’s your only response,” and pointed out that “The Babylon Bee is an entertainment website that does not publish factual content. A disclaimer at the bottom of the website states: “The Babylon Bee is Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire.” This is not hidden information, it’s right up front.

When The Babylon Bee makes Bernie Sanders jokes, such as “Bernie Sanders Vows To Round Up Remaining ISIS Members, Allow Them To Vote” or “Bernie Sanders Criticizes Billionaire For Giving Money To Students Instead Of The Needy Federal Government,” Snopes fact checks with “some readers didn’t see much humour in the post by a self-described satire site.” In the immortal words of The Dude, “well, that’s just like your opinion, man.”

Beyond the fact that it’s downright preposterous for a media watchdog to fact-check a satire site, there is a more sinister implication to all of this. It appears that Snopes and others are trying to take advantage of the stricter “fake news” policy of Facebook to punish The Babylon Bee for being outwardly Christian. And when there’s so much concern over “fake news,” from the Oval Office on down the line, it’s dangerous for a media organization to manipulate that kind of panic to basically posit that satire is deserving of the same kind of scrutiny otherwise reserved for actual news.

After releasing a letter to readers on Twitter where the editors wrote: “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.” In fact, they have retained legal counsel.

Social media platforms are basically the equivalent of a newsstand, and if Snopes is successful in rebranding The Babylon Bee as fake news, the humour site will not be viable. Snopes claims that “The Babylon Bee has managed to fool readers with its brand of satire in the past.” Well, sure. There will always be people fooled by satire. Your Uncle Randy may not realize that the article he posted about Trump walking on the moon is fake, but that’s hardly a reason to start targeting and censoring satire.

The Babylon Bee offered a counter-attack, in the form of a satire about Snopesnew opinion check feature: “Alongside the site’s helpful fact checks of satirical articles and debunking of urban legends, there will now be a section of the site dedicated to checking out opinions and letting you know which ones are acceptable to hold.”

Comedy, humour, and satire are hard enough to do well these days–it’s not easy to compete with the absurdity of reality in 2019. But The Babylon Bee does it well, and consistently. The only problem? They are Christian and conservative. So they must be punished.

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Libby Emmons and Barrett Wilson
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