The Babylon Bee, a self-proclaimed Christian satire site with half a million followers on Facebook, has accused fact-checking site Snopes.com of unfairly debunking some of its satirical articles as fake news. The accusation has jump-started a conspiracy theory that fact-checking websites are targeting conservative humor in an effort to de-platform right-wing publishers.
The controversy reached such a fever pitch this week that the top article in the last 24 hours on Facebook about Tuesday night’s Democratic debate was a Babylon Bee article titled “Snopes Issues Pre-Approval of All Statements Made During Tonight’s Democratic Debate,” according to social tracking website BuzzSumo.
The debacle began last week after the Babylon Bee published an article titled “Georgia Lawmaker Claims Chick-Fil-A Employee Told Her to Go Back to Her Country, Later Clarifies He Actually Said ‘My Pleasure.’” The article discussed Erica Thomas, a state legislator from Georgia, who became a popular target for right-wing media after she posted a tearful video on Facebook earlier this month claiming a white man in a Publix grocery story told her, “go back where you came from.”
Thomas’s account of the matter has been disputed. The man who allegedly yelled at Thomas came forward, claiming he was a Democrat and denying telling the legislator to go back to where she came from. Publix in a statement said it was “cooperating with local law enforcement as they look into the matter.”
“This real-world incident stirred up a good amount of online anger on both sides, and soon afterwards the Babylon Bee published a version of the story that altered some key details,” Snopes’s fact-check read. “The Babylon Bee has managed to confuse readers with its brand of satire in the past. This particular story was especially puzzling for some readers, however, as it closely mirrored the events of a genuine news story, with the big exception of the website’s changing the location.”
The Babylon Bee promptly rebutted Snopes’s allegations in an issue of its newsletter and threatened to take legal action against the publication. “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,” the newsletter read.
The controversy caught the eye of the far right after the Babylon Bee’s founder, Adam Ford, posted a Twitter thread, tweeting, “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.”
Snopes subsequently updated its story, apologizing for any wording that might have seemed to imply the Babylon Bee was actively trying to deceive readers. But by the beginning of this week, trolls were actively peddling a conspiracy theory claiming Snopes is trying to de-platform the Babylon Bee by getting Facebook to flag its stories as fake news.
“The CEO and I discussed this and agreed that at this moment we are not going to go further than my Twitter thread and his statement sent out to our email subscribers,” Ford told BuzzFeed News.
According to David Mikkelson, the founder of Snopes, the entire thing is ludicrous. “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.”
Snopes ended its partnership with Facebook back in February. BuzzFeed News has reached out to Facebook for comment. In 2017, Snopes received $100,000 from Facebook. The fact-checking outlet, along with other fact-checking organizations, helped the platform flag misinformation. Because Snopes is no longer fact-checking for the platform, its ratings no longer affect distribution of content on Facebook.
Mikkelson said that Snopes picks what to fact-check based on reader emails. “We write about what the most people are asking about,” he said. “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?’”
The Snopes–Babylon Bee feud has been building for a while now. But recently, far-right internet personalities like Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson and Ben Shapiro have been using the controversy to paint Snopes as a left-leaning partisan website intent on de-platforming conservative voices.
“I’m flattered that people seem to think we wield such power,” Mikkelson said. “The purpose is to inform people, not punish the people who are spreading it.”