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SKEPTOID BLOG:

We Are the Snopeheads

by Mike Rothschild

August 5, 2013

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Donate I have a bad habit of getting into Twitter spats with purveyors of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience and general nonsense. Last week, I stumbled on a tweet pushing the discredited bit of "news" that President Obama had threatened treason charges and arrest against 14 state governors who had formed "State Defense Forces" that would allow them to create their own armies and take control of the country. The post, linked from notorious hub of weaponized crap Before It's News, opined "and why isn't this in the news?"

To which I tweeted back "because it never happened." The story doesn't have any compelling evidence to support it. It doesn't even have any un-compelling evidence to support it. It's just made up. It never happened. And to "prove" it, I attached a link to the corresponding entry on Snopes.

I don't know why I felt compelled to do this. I mean, if you really believe that President Obama threatened over a quarter of America's governors with treason charges, and it never made the news, a link from Snopes won't change your mind. But I did it and went about my day. The response I got back was something I'd never seen before, but fit in perfectly with a small segment's view of Snopes as a wretched hive of scum and bias.

There was no text, only a picture of a woman rolling her eyes with her mouth hanging wide open against a goofy blue and white background, with the following written under it [sic]:
Snopehead: noun \?sn?p — hed \
1: A person or a liberal that believes snopes.com is an actual fact-checking site.
2: A person or a liberal that either isn't aware that snopes.com is privately funded by Marxist billionaire, media mogul & Obama crony George Soros, or does know, yet elects ignorance anyway.
3: A person or a liberal which uses the term "debunked" when referring to snopes.com, despite the fact that snopes.com was debunked in 2011. This type is also sometimes referred to as the "most annoying human being in existence."
Well, then.

Some of this is obviously nonsense designed to provoke argument, but there are some very real nuggets of conspiracy here. Skeptoid blogger Eric Hall wrote an excellent piece shooting down the idea of Snopes' perceived liberal bias, so I won't rehash that here, other than to say it doesn't appear to be true, based on a close reading of the site. All of the evidence says that the site's owners, David and Barbara Mikkelson, go about their work in as unbiased and neutral a way as they can.

But to those who see bias, the bias is there. So is Snopes really owned by George Soros? Was it debunked? Does it not actually check facts? And more importantly, do people who would normally trust it turn away from the site because of these accusations? And am I a Snopehead??

Let's dive in and address these points one by one. There are only three, so it won't take long.
1: A person or a liberal that believes snopes.com is an actual fact-checking site.
First, let's ignore the idiocy that liberals aren't actually people. It's just trolling. The key word in the sentence is "facts." Checking facts is exactly what Snopes does. Facts have no political biases or leanings. They can be spun any number of ways, but in the end, they're either true or not true. Something like the story of President Obama rounding up 14 governors either happened or didn't happen, regardless of whether one thinks Snopes is biased.

If Alex Jones or Glenn Beck told me there's no conclusive evidence that shape-shifting lizards run the world, it would have as much veracity as it would if the most august skeptics told me so. Likewise, if Michael Shermer or James Randi wrote that fracking unleashes psychic energy waves that cause GMO corn to turn toxic, I'd have a pretty hard time trusting them without a lot of solid research to back it up.

Obviously, the track record of a source matters. And there are sources I'm inclined to trust and sources I'm inclined to run screaming from. But whether or not a hypothesis is actually true only depends on whether the research proving or disproving the hypothesis has been done correctly, not on the political views of who did it.

2: A person or a liberal that either isn't aware that snopes.com is privately funded by Marxist billionaire, media mogul & Obama crony, George Soros or does know, yet elects ignorance anyway.
This is a perfect example of something that's either true or not true, no matter the source. As a bit of background, George Soros is a Hungarian-American investor and philanthropist who has donated considerable money to left-leaning causes. He is certainly a billionaire, though whether he is a Marxist is both debatable and irrelevant to this discussion.

The rumor about Soros owning part or all of Snopes seems to have originated in May 2010, on Glenn Beck's radio show. I don't know where Beck got it from, but now it's accepted as fact by those with an axe to grind against the site. The Mikkelsons have consistently denied that either Soros or anyone else owns any part of the site, and claim that all of their revenue comes from advertising. Soros has never claimed to own Snopes, and nobody has uncovered any compelling evidence that he or any other politically-leaning organization does.

Of course, we can't completely discount the idea. Maybe there's evidence out there and it's just really well hidden. Maybe the Mikkelsons are lying. Beck being the source of the claim doesn't automatically invalidate it, but the total lack of proof behind it just might. Remember, it's up to the people making the claim to prove the claim is true, not the other way around. Until they do, it can't be accepted as fact.
3: A person or a liberal which uses the term "debunked" when referring to snopes.com, despite the fact that snopes.com was debunked in 2011. This type is also sometimes referred to as the "most annoying human being in existence."
At first glance, this appears to be a reference to the "Snopes got snoped" meme that Eric wrote about in his blog piece. Again, he goes into great detail about the claim that Snopes was caught in a lie, why it's false and the fringe beliefs behind the person who wrote the post. But the original "Snopes got snoped" post from "worldtruth.tv" is from early 2013, not 2011. I did find a ludicrously complicated conspiracy theory involving the site's research about a claim that President Obama lent $2 billion to a Brazilian oil company owned by George Soros. But this is hardly a debunking of Snopes so much as it is an incoherent rant about Soros. And it's from 2010. So I have no idea what the "2011 debunking" is supposed to refer to.

As for the idea of Snopes actually being "debunked", it's all too easy to accuse someone of being biased or wrong when you don't like what they have to say. We see this time and time again in skepticism and science, with everything from GMO's and vaccines to UFO's and conspiracy theories. Those we agree with are right, even if they're obviously not. And those we don't agree with are wrong, bought off, haven't "done their research" or are just lying. The facts stop being important, and only the ideology remains.

Obviously, nobody who does fact-based research and writing gets it 100% right 100% of the time. This includes the Mikkelsons. But overall, Snopes' track record of determining what's factual and what's not, and of being honest when they don't know, is basically as dependable as it gets. They seek out facts, and facts aren't biased. So if believing in the work of Snopes makes me a Snopehead, then a Snopehead I am.

by Mike Rothschild

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