I’ve been a fan of Snopes for about as long as I’ve been using the internet. About 20 years ago, I stumbled across the site and spent hours perusing its investigations of urban legends. After I started blogging, I found Snopes’ fact-check pieces to be invaluable. As a longtime defender of Snopes, I’ve been very disappointed with the site’s ill-conceived war on The Babylon Bee.
Snopes is correct that satire masked as news is a problem, but they are incorrect that the Bee is representative of this genre of fake news. The Babylon Bee is an obvious satire site in the vein of The Onion. Nobody takes either site seriously.
The problem may stem from the fact that, in our surreal political world, real news often seems more satirical than fiction while satire can seem more truthful that real news. The Bee’s cutting satire targets both sides of the political spectrum with on-target criticisms that are cloaked in humor. For example, recent articles attack the Portland police for rolling over for Antifa and mock Donald Trump’s claim that he is “the Chosen One.”
The real problem is from a number of lesser known sites that mimic real news sites and post articles that are clearly intended to mislead. Often these pieces are not clearly labeled as satire and and closely resemble real news articles with fake-but-plausible sounding quotes and claims. Contrast that with the Bee’s over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek writing and clearly posted claim, “The Babylon Bee is the world’s best satire site, totally inerrant in all its truth claims.”
In response to Snopes’ unprovoked attacks, the Bee has returned fire in a most un-Bee-lievable manner. In a break from his typical unserious fare, the Bee’s editor-in-chief has penned most serious op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.
“Opinion and satire involve layers of context and interpretation—and, yes, bias,” wrote the Bee’s Kyle Mann. “It’s dishonest for ‘fact checkers’ like Snopes to treat satirical sites like ours as if we claimed to be objective news sources simply in order to saddle us with the ‘fake news’ sobriquet.”
“Lies claiming to be objective truth are a problem, and sometimes people mistake satire for fact,” continued Mann. “But let’s not give up our sense of humor just because some ‘fact checker’ pretends not to have one.”
To prove the Bee hasn’t lost its sense of humor, the site simultaneously launched a satirical attack on Snopes as well. On Monday, the Bee published an article titled, “Under Mounting Pressure From Snopes, Babylon Bee Writers Forced To Admit They Are Not Real Journalists.”
“The headlines, the copy, the quotes—they’re all fake,” the article quotes the site’s editor in chief, who was reportedly “hanging his head in shame.” “It started a few years ago. We made up a few stories about church culture, some about politics, some about everyday life, just for fun.”
Yesterday, the Bee accused Snopes of being a satire site in an article titled, “Concerning Survey Finds Too Many People Believe Snopes Is A Legitimate Fact-Checking Website.”
The Bee’s researchers allegedly “went to a Walmart and grabbed random people by the arm and started shouting at them: ‘HEY, DO YOU THINK SNOPES IS REAL!?’ The ones who didn’t run away screaming or call for security responded, and of those few dozen people, we got our results,” which indicated that a large segment of the Walmart population confuses Snopes with Snoop Doggy Dogg.
I don’t care who you are, that’s funny stuff. Anyone who confuses it for real news is probably one of those people who need to have the flight attendant show them how to fasten their seatbelt.
There is a real need for fact-checkers in our culture of fake news and lying politicians, but there is also a place for well executed, side-splittingly funny, obviously fake satire. There is room for both Snopes and The Babylon Bee on the internet. The two sites should embrace their own niches and bury the hatchet.