Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking: fact-checking the fact-checking sites and finding fools’ gold

“Living in the Golden Age of Fact-Checking”  (ReallyGraceful, July 2020)

In an age awash with global news / information media disinformation, coupled with the increasing denigration of critical thinking in the West by governments and corporations via failing education systems and institutions, fact-checking websites on the Internet have become a necessary evil for many people. One of the most prominent fact-checking sites is Snopes.com – from here on, referred to as Snopes – originally founded by couple David and Barbara Mikkelson in the mid-1990s as an information site investigating urban legends. Over time the site grew to encompass checking a variety of stories and claims, starting with claims about the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, on the Internet, and became a go-to reference site used by many online news media outlets.

In this video, ReallyGraceful investigates the history of Snopes, what sort of company it is, how big it is, what its biases are, and how the Mikkelsens’ messy personal lives (ending in divorce) affected the company’s management and structure. RG discovers the company provides no information about its fact-checking employees or what their political biases might be. The company’s funding is equally murky: some of its funding comes from online funding campaigns but the company apparently provides no information about the breakdown of the funds raised and where the funding goes in its operations; some funding comes from advertisements on its site on the Google search engine; and Snopes’ fact-checking partnership with Facebook. Incidentally the major shareholders of both Facebook and Google include BlackRock and Vanguard investment management corporations. RG examines David Mikkelsen’s previous employment background and finds he once worked for NASA and NASA-associated companies; another Snopes employee, Alex Kasprak, also once worked for NASA; and other Snopes workers came from The Seattle Times.

The last part of the video focuses on a story in which US furniture company Wayfair was supposedly secretly trafficking missing children by using their names to advertise overpriced furniture items online. Twenty-four hours after the story became public, Snopes claimed the story was false … because a Snopes employee contacted someone at Wayfair who simply said it was untrue. There was no further investigation on Snopes’ part as to how the claims arose in the first place, or into Wayfair’s internal affairs and its management’s ties to Bain Capital, a notorious asset-stripping firm co-founded by former US Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

RG summarises her video by analysing the useful role that Snopes and similar “fact checkers” play as propagandists policing the limits of acceptable discussion and dissent in a reality where information is a commodity to be bought and sold. These sites shepherd the public into particular acceptable directions of information search and narrow critical thinking and discussion to topics deemed acceptable and harmless by The Powers That (Should Not) Be. A real “fact-checking” site would resemble investigative news sites like 21st Century Wire and Mint Press.

In case USE readers are not convinced by RG’s video alone on Snopes’ dubious nature, they are welcome to read this Vietato Parlare article on the equally dubious Facebook associations of Snopes reporter Bethania Palma Markus, the official “debunker” of claims that the White Helmets group is a front for terrorists in Syria. The VP article shows that not only does Markus’ Facebook associations and friends demonstrate strong political bias but also her friendships with individuals in Syria linked to the White Helmets and their jihadist confreres. Revelations such as this and what RG has posted really make you wonder: who fact-checks the fact-checking sites like Snopes?

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