No joke: Babylon Bee sics lawyers on Snopes over "fact checks"

Even the satirists at the Babylon Bee have a limit to jokes — and the attempts by Snopes to “fact check” their humor doesn’t qualify. In a message to subscribers yesterday, the Bee declared that Snopes was attempting to exploit its position as a Facebook partner to “deplatform” the conservative satire site. In response, the Babylon Bee has decided to sic their very real and non-humorous attorneys against the urban-legend site to put an end to their harassment:

As you know, fake news—which is distinguished from satire by its intent to mislead—was widely considered a serious issue in the last election cycle. As a result, social media networks like Facebook began partnering with fact-checkers to try and limit the distribution of fake news on their platforms. Snopes was one of them. At one point, a piece of ours was rated “false” by Snopes, prompting Facebook to threaten us with limitations and demonetization. We made a stink about this, and after some media attention shed light on the problem, Facebook apologized for their handling of the matter and admitted that satire is not the same as fake news.

We came out on top last time, but this latest smear from Snopes is both dishonest and disconcerting. We have no choice but to take it very seriously. For better or worse, the media, the public, and social networks all look to Snopes for authoritative answers. 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. While we wish it wasn’t necessary, we have retained a law firm to represent us in this matter.

Babylon Bee CEO Seth Dillon confirmed the accuracy of the statement published yesterday to readers in an e-mail to Hot Air this afternoon, so this is no satirical joke. The move follows a long Twitter thread Friday by founder Adam Ford on Snopes’ most recent “ridiculous article,” in which they questioned whether poking fun at Georgia state representative Erica Thomas could be considered “satire.” What follows on Ford’s tweetstorm is what we’d have called an old-fashioned Fisking in the blogosphere a few years back:

Ford finished the thread by advising Snopes to “fix your operation.” The Bee has now hired legal representation to assist them with that, or at least to incentivize them to fact check something other than jokes.

At least one newspaper weighed in on the Bee’s side. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette’s editors lectured Snopes on the difference between fake news and satire, and scoffed at Snopes’ attempt to defend its weird obsession with the Babylon Bee:

Snopes writer Dan Evon wrote, “While this real-world incident stirred up a good amount of online anger, it wasn’t quite outrageous enough for the entertainment website Babylon Bee. In an apparent attempt to maximize the online indignation, this website published a fictionalized version of the story . . .”

In an apparent attempt? There’s no apparent. That’s exactly what the Bee does. Would you expect an outlet that publishes headlines like “Border Patrol Agent Calls Up Planned Parenthood To Get Helpful Pointers On Separating Children From Their Mothers” to be subtle or sneaky in its attempts to drive web traffic?

Mr. Evon went on to accuse the Bee of fooling its readers. But it seems pretty clear that readers of the Babylon Bee know what they’re getting into. Want proof? Just look at the Facebook comments.

The Babylon Bee says it has lawyered up, and we’re sure that a satire news organization going to court will provide some fantastic material for future headlines. But Snopes should know better than to pick fights with a site clearly labeled as satire news. It’s called picking your battles.

If it weren’t for Snopes’ role as a Facebook gatekeeper at times (see update below), this would have no more significance than any other blog war. That role, however, gives Snopes a significant amount of power over a major distribution channel for independent publishers, and not just the Bee. The threat of malicious deplatforming in that context is real, and Snopes’ disparate treatment of the Bee as opposed to The Onion (discussed by both Ford and the Gazette-Democrat’s editors) certainly makes it look personal and biased in relation to conservative satire.

It’s entirely a shame, too, because at one point Snopes was careful and judicious about sticking to its expertise in urban legends. Until recently, the site was a reliable resource for getting to the bottom of inbox claims and poor reporting. In that sense, both the Onion and the Bee served the same purpose — to discourage bad reporting and faulty assumptions by making fun of both at length. At different times, I’ve been a fan of both Snopes and the Bee in that particular sense. (I’m also a fan of Eye of the Tiber for Catholic satire, such as “Catholic Apologist With Fear Of Public Speaking Pictures Everyone In Audience With Bare Shoulders.” Come on, you laughed, or at least you fellow Catholics did.)

Perhaps some day, when Snopes decides it wants to stop wasting time attacking satire, we can get back to being fans of both sites simultaneously. In the meantime, Facebook should rethink its partnership with the site (active or not), and perhaps the whole idea that its users can’t do their own factchecking for themselves. Based on Snopes’ continuous obsession with the Babylon Bee, it’s tough to argue that such gatekeeping really improves matters.

Update, 7/31/19: Snopes stopped working with Facebook in February, although they haven’t ruled out returning to that partnership. Snopes announced that they are “keep[ing] an open dialogue” with Facebook on fact-checking efforts. I’ve added “at times” just before the reference to this update and “(active or not)” in the last paragraph for better clarity.