Snopes’ world

These are busy times for fact checkers.

The last line of defense against the torrent of half-truths, untruths and outright fakery that make up so much of the modern internet is in a downscale strip mall near the beach.

Snopes, the fact-checking website, does not have an office designed to impress, or even be noticed. A big sign outside still bears the name of the previous tenant, a maker of underwater headphones. Inside there’s nothing much — a bunch of improvised desks, a table tennis table, cartons of Popchips and cases of Dr Pepper. It looks like a dot-com on the way to nowhere.

Appearances deceive. This is where the muddled masses come by the virtual millions to establish just what the heck is really going on in a world turned upside down.

Did Donald J. Trump say on Twitter that he planned to arrest the “Saturday Night Live” star Alec Baldwin for sedition? Has Hillary Clinton quietly filedfor divorce? Was Mr. Trump giving Kanye West a cabinet position? And was Alan Thicke, the star of “Growing Pains,” really dead?

All untrue, except for the demise of Mr. Thicke, which was easily verifiable.

“Rationality seems to have fallen out of vogue,” said Brooke Binkowski, Snopes’s managing editor. “People don’t know what to believe anymore. Everything is really strange right now.”

That is certainly true at Snopes itself. For 20 years, the site was dedicated to urban legends, like the purported existence of alligators in New York City sewers, and other benign misinformation. But its range and readership increased significantly during a prolonged presidential election campaign in which the facts became a partisan issue and reality itself seemed up for grabs.


But the role of fake news and misinformation in Mr. Trump’s surprise win quickly reached a fever pitch, prompting questions about the extent to which Facebook, where many of these bogus stories were shared, had influenced the election. Reluctantly, the social media giant was forced to act.

The plan is for Facebook to send questionable links to a coalition of fact-checking sites, including Snopes. If the links are found to be dubious, Facebook will alert users by marking stories with a “disputed” designation.

Mr. Mikkelson, speaking from Washington State, declined to claim this new initiative was a potential turning point in the quest for truth on the internet, or even in the history of Snopes.

“I said, ‘O.K., we’ll give it a try,’” he said. “It doesn’t really involve us doing anything we wouldn’t already be doing.” As for Facebook, he thinks it had to do something but had few good options. Blocking content outright, for instance, would be a public relations minefield.

You know, I’m so old I was once subscribed to the soc.urban-legends Usenet feed, from whence David and then-wife Barbara Mikkelson got their start in this business. I’m glad that Facebook has enlisted Snopes’ services to try and separate truth from lies, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope that it will make much difference. People are going to believe what they want to believe, and when those too-good-to-be-true stories align with their politics, good luck with that. But you still have to do something, so we can hope this will help even a little bit.

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6 Responses to Snopes’ world

  1. Neither Here Nor There says:

    People who believe in conspiracies will believe in conspiracies, one must fight fire with fire. Those that read and believe in facts based on extensive reading will know the difference. For instance the tweet from Trump that is fake news

    When I first read it I looked at the source and checked to see if there other sources, there were none. But I liked the fake story so I passed it on.

  2. Flypusher says:

    It’s hard these days to resist despairing that we can keep this republic, and people deliberately embracing falsehood is a big reason why. This trend burns even more for those of us in the knowledge professions.

    When I would get one of those FW:fwd:fw:FWD:fw e-mails, I’d do a bit of Googling and reply-all with the rebuttal. I probably didn’t sway anyone, but it’s been a while since I recieved one!

  3. C.L. says:

    Brilliant move, @NHNT. If you can’t fix it, BE a part of the problem.

  4. Neither Here Nor There says:

    CL I am all ears (or eyes since I will expect it to be written), please tell me what the solution is?

    I don’t believe that if you turn the other cheek you will make that enemy go away, he will only slap the other cheek.

    But it is easy to make statements like become part of the problem, when one does not have an answer.

    By the way CL I recognize an insult when I see it or hear it, I will ignore it. Since I figure that the lack of experience of maybe some sort or moral dignity drives you, which is not bad in fact it is good to have.

    CL there are much great problems coming in the future what does one do when there not enough jobs for people, because robots or maybe people in India or China can do it from there. Doctors do not need to be there if there are robots that can be controlled from another country. Many of the jobs can be outsourced without bringing anyone here.

    Amazon just received a patent for a floating warehouse and drones for delivery. Driver-less vehicles will put tens of thousands out of jobs. The future is here, where there will be more people than there are jobs. If we don’t have income distribution the future for many people will be very bleak. I haven’t even mention climate change and the rising seas.

    So we must have the control of those that believe in conspiracy and will never check to see if it is factual. Better people like you than the people like the Trumps of the world.

  5. Brad Dean says:

    I find many right-wingers unimpressed by any light the Snopes staff might shed a given question. Comments I saw just today include “SNOPES is worthless,” “Snopes is a Clinton crony outfit,” “Snopes is a huge fraud.” I asked these folks if there was some more credible resource I was missing but have yet to hear any answer.

  6. Brad Dean says:

    I find many right-wingers unimpressed by any light the Snopes staff might shed on a given question. Comments I saw just today include “SNOPES is worthless,” “Snopes is a Clinton crony outfit,” “Snopes is a huge fraud.” I asked these folks if there was some more credible resource I was missing but have yet to hear any answer.

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