Snopes built an esteemed reputation by busting hoaxes and urban legends, but it became controversial as it waded into politics. In recent years, it has been accused of having a left-wing bias, especially because of its feud with conservative, Christian satire site: The Babylon Bee.
In 2018, while it was still a Facebook fact-checking partner, Snopes fact-checked a Bee piece headlined “CNN Purchases Industrial Washing Machine to Spin the News.” No one reading that headline should have believed it factual and been misled, but The Bee’s jab at CNN’s liberal bias received criticism from Snopes. That criticism caused Facebook to threaten The Bee with ad demonetization. After a few dust-ups with the Bee, Snopes rolled out a new rating: “Labeled Satire.” Snopes didn’t stop there. A review of its archives revealed it has criticized The Bee’s satire more than 40 times. Facebook also reportedly admitted its mistake: “There’s a difference between false news and satire. This was a mistake and should not have been rated false in our system. It’s since been corrected and won’t count against the domain in any way.”
Newsbusters also called Snopes out in 2020 for playing semantic games with the word “terrorist.” After a Twitter user wrote that a “convicted terrorist” (Susan Rosenberg) “sits on the Board of Directors for the fundraising arm of Black Lives Matter,” the site insisted it was a “mixture” of truth and falsehood because there's no "universally-agreed definition" of terrorism. This was its excuse, even though Rosenberg was convicted for participation in a left-wing group that bombed government buildings in 1983.
Snopes was founded in 1994 by publisher and CEO David Mikkelson as a hobby to debunk urban legends. When the rise of the internet made it possible for urban legends and other false information to go viral, its work debunking such legends eventually made Snopes profitable.
Snopes was one of the original four Facebook fact-checkers working to stop “clear hoaxes.” Snopes ended the partnership in early 2019 with little explanation, although staffers told Poynter it required too much time. Snopes has continued fact-checking independently.
- Kyle Mann of The Babylon Bee said “once a reliable source for distinguishing reality from urban legends—have been smearing the Bee as ‘fake news.’” He noted that Snopes doesn’t mind much when the site makes fun of conservatives, Trump or Christians but “when we target Democrats and the left, suddenly we’re branded liars.”
- In February 2019, Snopes announced it did not renew its partnership as a Facebook fact-checker but the announcement didn’t explain its reasoning. A couple months earlier, a few former Snopes employees complained about the Facebook partnership to The Guardian. “They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” said former managing editor Brooke Binkowski.“They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck … They clearly don’t care.”
- As of 2018, Snopes was employing 16 people around the country, according to The Seattle Times.
- It became a Facebook fact-checking partner in 2016 when the program launched. Snopes received $406,000 from Facebook for participating in their fact-checking partnership effort in 2018, and $100,000 from Facebook in 2017.
- Snopes was founded in 1994 by David Mikkelson. Initially focused on urban legends and hoaxes, the focus shifted over time. The 2001 terrorist attacks provided countless conspiracies to debunk and then it turned heavily to politics during the Obama and Trump presidencies.