Last month, the satire site The Babylon Bee lawyered up after liberal fact-checker Snopes tried to deplatform it by calling it “fake news” and suggesting the Babylon Bee did not rise to the level of satire. The Babylon Bee’s lawyer sent a demand letter, and Snopes altered the offending article. But last week, Snopes unloaded two more attacks on the Bee, and the Bee vowed to keep fighting back.
“Snopes is at it again. We had hoped that a demand letter from our attorneys would prompt changes. And it seemed to. Snopes did go back and edit their defamatory fact-check, revising some of the language that suggested we were deliberately misleading people. However, they’ve subsequently published a new rating for satire called ‘Labeled Satire,'” the Bee said in an email to subscribers.
“Their explanation of this rating says the label ‘satire’ is often misapplied to content that doesn’t really qualify as satire — and Snopes has made it clear that they feel our content falls into that category,” the Bee continued. “From their view, we’re just pretenders, using the label ‘satire’ to our advantage so we can hoodwink the masses. It’s really extraordinary, especially since they’ve acknowledged in private communication with us that there is a ‘clear distinction’ between our satire and intentionally misleading fake news. For some reason, they refuse to acknowledge the clear distinction in their published articles.”
The Babylon Bee also pointed to a survey conducted by Ohio State University “that suggests satire is causing too much confusion, posing ‘a problem for democracy.'” Yet that survey is extremely dubious.
In the survey, Snopes analyzed the most popular satire articles from The Babylon Bee and The Onion, and asked a random sample of 800 Americans “if they believed claims based on those trending stories.”
The survey did not include any context about the speaker making the claims, so claims from the Bee such as “Ilhan Omar said that being Jewish is an inherently hostile act, especially among those living in Israel” and claims from The Onion such as “National Security Advisor John Bolton said that an attack on two Saudi Arabian oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman is ‘an attack on all Americans'” misled Republicans and Democrats, respectively.
But this does not prove that readers were swayed by satire from The Babylon Bee or The Onion. Those in the survey may have rated a statement “absolutely true” if it merely seemed plausible to them, and they likely would have rated the statement false had they known the source or the style of the original satire article.
Kyle Mann, editor in chief of The Babylon Bee, called the survey “horrible.”
“Did they seriously paraphrase Bee stories and ask people if they thought they were true? That’s an awful way to figure out what percentage of people will believe satire,” he tweeted. “The specific phrasing we use is designed to be humorous, to frame things as a joke, to set things up in a dry manner and then deliver a punchline. The framing is everything.”
That survey @snopes shared is horrible. Did they seriously paraphrase Bee stories and ask people if they thought they were true? That's an awful way to figure out what percentage of people will believe satire. pic.twitter.com/tDHnTx4h41
— Kyle Mann (@The_Kyle_Mann) August 16, 2019
Mann also noted that “3 or 4 of those 5 pieces are deliberate exaggerations of things those people actually believe. So framed in that way it’d definitely be believable.”
“This is totally different from how people actually engage with our stories, where the over-the-top content on the site and social feeds, the site name, our freakin’ tagline, a goofy photoshop, are pretty darn big clues that it’s satire,” Mann added.
This is totally different from how people actually engage with our stories, where the over-the-top content on the site and social feeds, the site name, our freakin' tagline, a goofy photoshop, are pretty darn big clues that it's satire.
— Kyle Mann (@The_Kyle_Mann) August 17, 2019
While the survey was “shoddy at best,” The Bee noted that Snopes still used it “to advance the narrative that our content is deceptive and problematic.”
“Stories published by The Babylon Bee were among the most shared factually inaccurate content in almost every survey of this research,” Snopes tweeted, sharing a link to the survey.
Stories published by The Babylon Bee were among the most shared factually inaccurate content in almost every survey of this research. https://t.co/x96rPCl1w9
— snopes.com (@snopes) August 16, 2019
The Babylon Bee concluded the email to subscribers by thanking them for their support and adding, “with your help, we’ll prevail against Snopes and anyone else who might seek to discredit or deplatform us.”
In other words, the fight is ongoing, and The Babylon Bee is considering its next steps.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.