Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Can Snopes be trusted?


Barbara and David P. Mikkelson created the Snopes.com website in 1995 as a now well-known resource for validating and debunking controversial stories in the media about American popular culture, now receiving about 300,000 visits a day. Barbara was reportedly the left-wing "liberal brains" of the couple while David was the chief "researcher." The Mikkelsons divorced around 2014, and Barbara no longer has an ownership stake in Snopes.com, and David has hired employees to assist him on the Snopes message board.

The site gained a reputation for reliability in fact-checking and urband-legend debunking, although as early as 2009 David admitted that the site received more complaints for having a liberal than a conservative bias. More recently, however, during the overheated rhetoric that was the bread and butter of the 2016 presidential election, the reputation of Snopes for reliability appeared to completely tank:
Most (not all) of these articles have an obvious anti-liberal slant, although that fact alone is insufficient to vindicate Snopes from many of the factual inaccuracies alleged in them. But questions about the inaccuracies and biases of Snopes were already surfacing well-before the overheated political rhetoric of the 2016 election season, in one case as early as 2009. See, for example, these two articles
Other sources want you to believe that such complaints against the bias of Snopes are themselves mostly unfounded urban legends. For example:
It should therefore go without saying that Snopes, while it may be counted upon to be fairly reliable in most of its non-political vetting, cannot be consistently depended upon to deliver a politically non-biased verdict on issues of partisan political concern. Why this should come as a surprise to anyone, I don't know. Nobody has a "point of view from nowhere," as philosopher Thomas Nagel once famously declared. Almost all people have political biases; and political commitments are often intensely personal and anything but dispassionate. And Barbara and David P. Mikkelson and any other Snopes writers are no exception.


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