Facebook is doing some damage-control after “fact-checkers” mistakenly flagged satirical Christian news site The Babylon Bee as “fake news.” Well, yes, that’s kind of the point of “satire.”
The site apparently received a strict warning from Facebook this week after the fact-checking website Snopes deemed one of its articles “false,” PJ Media reported.
Adam Ford, who runs The Babylon Bee, tweeted a screenshot Thursday of the message he received from Facebook:
Really, Facebook?? pic.twitter.com/HEtBc7C0Gz
— Adam Ford (@Adam4d) March 2, 2018
The article, “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication,” was clearly humorous in nature and not meant to be taken literally. But Facebook warned Ford that the piece “contains information disputed by (Snopes.com) an independent fact checker,” and that the Bee “will see their distribution reduced and their ability to monetize and advertised (sic.) removed” if they continue to publish similar articles.
“Although it should have been obvious that the Babylon Bee piece was just a spoof of the ongoing political brouhaha over alleged news media ‘bias’ and ‘fake news,'” Snopes explained on their website, “some readers missed that aspect of the article and interpreted it literally.”
It’s impossible to verify whether any readers (other than the fact-checkers at Snopes) could have possibly misinterpreted the sensational Bee piece.
PJ Media’s Paula Bolyard offered her own speculation as to what really happened:
Are we to believe there are people who really accepted at face value the claim that CNN bought a literal washing machine to literally “spin” their news? Highly doubtful. What more likely happened is that some trigger-happy activists who don’t appreciate Christian and conservative satire reported The Babylon Bee to Facebook, setting off an investigation by Snopes.
The Snopes report admits that “the site’s footer gives away the Babylon Bee’s nature by describing it as ‘Your Trusted Source For Christian News Satire,'” but claims the outlet “has been responsible for a number of other (usually religious-themed) spoofs that have been mistaken for real news articles.”
Ford told PJM that this strange incident isn’t the only time The Babylon Bee has been “fact-checked.”
“But this is the first time Facebook has used that to threaten us with reduced reach and demonetization,” he said. “Also it seems that anyone who clicked on the article got a notice that it was ‘disputed.'”
Ford added that the social media platform also reduced the image size on the article’s Facebook card after it was flagged, which “probably stamped out the reach.”
Facebook reached out to PJM Friday with an official statement, explaining that it made a “mistake.”
“There’s a difference between false news and satire,” Lauren Svensson of Facebook’s communications team wrote in an email to PJM. “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.”
PJM’s Paula Bolyard noted that while the incident might have indeed been just an unintended mishap, there’s good reason to believe that the “fact-check” was more sinister in nature:
While on the surface this may seem like nothing more than a silly misunderstanding or overreaction on the part of Snopes and Facebook, it’s important to view the warning in the context of conservative groups and individuals being removed from Facebook and other social media outlets at an alarming rate. Facebook claims that they’re in the process of hiring thousands of fact-checkers along with “professional” fact-checking organizations that oh, by the way, happen to lean left.
Back in December, PolitiFact’s Aaron Sharackman explained how Facebook’s new system of fact-checking works:
“Our partnership with Facebook is part of a push by the social media company to clean up its news feed and become a more trustworthy platform,” Sharackman wrote. “Facebook introduced a new tool after the 2016 campaign that allows users to mark a post as a ‘false news story,’ and if enough do, the post is sent to fact-checkers like PolitiFact, Snopes and Factcheck.org.”
He added that if fact-checkers determine the story to be “false,” a warning label is attached to the original post, and “Facebook’s algorithm makes it more difficult for the disputed post to spread virally.”
That’s exactly what happened to the Babylon Bee piece, as reported by a reader on Twitter:
So I clicked on the headline and Facebook gave me this. ???? pic.twitter.com/793CqTRwdB
— Roger for Christ (@MrB_Loves_Jesus) March 2, 2018
The partnership between PolitiFact and Facebook has been in place for about a year, and in that time, Sharackman says they “have attached that false label to at least 1,722 individual URLs. That’s nearly five articles debunked a day, every day for a year.”
In the wake of this latest fact-check-gone-wrong, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is going to have to work even harder to regain the trust of Christians and conservatives who use the platform.
(H/T: PJ Media)