The UK’s Daily Mail has published a story regarding the founders of the fact-checking site snopes.com. This merits a closer look and so we shall take a peek to see what is happening here.
Generally seeing the words, “Daily Mail” is a bit of a red flag. They are not the worst, but you can never wholly trust anything they publish, their credibility is really not good. However, it does warrant some examination because so many rely upon sites such as snopes.com to fact check.
Forbes also picked it up, ponders over it all being fake news, but does not do all that well.
The Daily Mail article starts with a typical tabloid headline …
EXCLUSIVE: Facebook ‘fact checker’ who will arbitrate on ‘fake news’ is accused of defrauding website to pay for prostitutes – and its staff includes an escort-porn star and ‘Vice Vixen domme’
First, let’s make an assumption that might or might not be correct, let’s assume that each and every word within both the Daily Mail story and also the Forbes story is wholly and completely 100% factual. What then does that tell us about the credibility of the fact-checking on snopes.com?
The answer is simple – absolutely nothing at all.
It is all an ad hominem
Let’s clarify exactly what the term “ad hominem” means.
If you present an argument and I then respond to your argument by telling you that your argument is invalid because you are an idiot, then that is a classic ad hominem. In essence, I am attacking you and I am not addressing the argument.
It might indeed be correct that you are an idiot, but your argument may also be completely correct as well.
If the response was, “Your argument is not valid because of fact A and fact B, oh and by the way you are also an idiot“. That is not an “ad hominem”. Instead it is a fact-based rebuttal to the argument with an additional opinion tacked on at the end.
The principle argument being presented is that we are supposed to believe that the fact-checking presented on snopes.com is not reliable because ….
- The founders are going through a messy divorce. (it happens)
- When directly contacted they have declined to comment (that is common sense and also standard legal guidance if you are in the middle of a divorce)
- The personal lives of some who have fact-checked on snopes.com
- One of the authors who fact-checks for snopes.com has a political opinion … (gasp, oh the horror).
Regardless of what you might think about divorce or peoples personal lives … facts are facts. If evidence is cited that either verifies something or acts as a rebuttal to something, then the personal life of the person writing that rebuttal is completely irrelevant.
The Right-wing hate fact-checkers
Note that earlier we made an assumption that the Daily Mail story is accurate. However, we should also consider the bigger picture here. Their reputation for honesty, integrity and accuracy is not exactly great, so even assuming it is all factual on the sole basis of one Daily Mail story is a highly dubious thing to do.
They have a rather obvious vested interest in discrediting fact-checking sites. Publications such as the Daily Mail not only have a great deal to lose, but also have a bit of an axe to grind.
If you go to snopes.com and search using the term “Daily Mail” you get a very long list of Daily Mail stories that are mostly false. Clearly the Daily Mail has a huge undeclared conflict of interest here in publishing this hatchet job.
Side note: It is also rather ironic to observe the right-wing discrediting a fact-checking site because the founders are getting divorced. A one-word rebuttal to this is perhaps sufficient to seriously break your irony meter – Trump.
Has Snopes.com been fact checked?
David Mikkelson, the creator of the site, has said that the site receives more complaints of liberal bias than conservative bias, but insists that the same debunking standards are applied to all political urban legends. In 2012, FactCheck.org reviewed a sample of Snopes’ responses to political rumors regarding George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama, and found them to be free from bias in all cases. FactCheck noted that Barbara Mikkelson was a Canadian citizen (and thus unable to vote in US elections) and David Mikkelson was an independent who was once registered as a Republican. “You’d be hard-pressed to find two more apolitical people,” David Mikkelson told them. In 2012, The Florida Times-Union reported that About.com‘s urban legends researcher found a “consistent effort to provide even-handed analyses” and that Snopes’ cited sources and numerous reputable analyses of its content confirm its accuracy.
What do others make of this?
The UK’s Guardian clearly takes the stance that this attack on the fact-checkers by the Daily Mail is very much motivated by a specific hidden agenda that plays to its own specific financial interests …
The purpose of the article appears to be to sow doubt about measures to deal with, or at least mitigate, the impact of fake news and falsehoods on social media, long before they have even got off the ground.
The Mail, of course, has skin in this game. It is far from the worst offenders when it comes to falsehoods – those tend to be the sorts of sites set up by Macedonian teenagers to create completely fabricated stories – but it has come under Snopes’ microscope enough times to be called in July “Britain’s highly unreliable Daily Mail” by a Snopes writer who just happens to be named in the Mail story.
If Facebook’s plans go ahead and Snopes helps it fact check, the Mail would expect that some of its more tenuous stories will be flagged. That could make a small but not insignificant impact on its online audience, which is the largest for any English-language newspaper by some margin.
Bottom Line – Can we still trust Snopes.com?
Basically yes. They don’t just tell you what to think, nor do they have a specific leaning.
- Both Trump and also Clinton myths have been debunked
- Their rebuttals cite sources, and are not simply manufactured mythology.
Number of Snopes rebuttals debunked by the Daily Mail? – exactly zero.
“the Mail has attempted to cast doubt on the notion of fact checking. In the battle between those who profit from playing fast and loose with the truth and those trying to fix the fake news problem, the Mail has made it clear in which camp it sits“
– Jasper Jackson, Guardian media editor and journalist