Snopes.com

Organization: Snopes.com
Applicant: David Mikkelson
Assessor: Margot Susca
Conclusion and recommendations
on 17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago)

Margot Susca wrote:

My assessment is to accept the 2nd year application as compliant in all areas.

I appreciate that Snopes goes so far as to include video in its fact checks, which I believe is a way to enhance fact checking by building on reader/viewer engagement. I also find its setup easy to navigate, and I believe it would be easy for a member of the public (who isn’t spending the time evaluating the site like me) to do so as well.

Snopes states a claim, gives it a clear rating [False, Mostly True, True, Mixture, Mostly False, Unproven are offered as options (I only saw one Unproven and that was on the recent Amelia Earhart-maybe-it’s-her?-bones-on-an-island piece)], and offers an origin of the claim, whether that’s from urban legends, MSM or social media. Not only does Snopes provide the evaluation of the claim with one of the aforementioned terms, but it’s graphically shown, too, using either red and/or green, and that feels helpful since today’s consumers are so visual. Its methodology arriving at the distinctions are clear and explained in lay terms.

A reader recently emailed Poynter to complain about Snopes having a left-leaning agenda and wondered why the site was allowed to display the IFCN moniker. She (the email address says her name is “kristen mccabe”) noted a fact check that Snopes did with the headline “Did Newsweek Report That Trump Will Be Impeached and Replaced by Hillary Clinton” was questionable and provided evidence of this so-called bias.

I went back and checked the Snopes presentation of that piece she mentioned, and I do not see anything that supports her claim. Snopes stated the claim, explained it was a think piece done by a Harvard University professor and noted that it is FALSE. She brought another matter to Poynter’s attention about a fact check about a second shooter in Parkland and in that one it’s tough to understand exactly what her concern is. She noted in that email that Newsweek is “run by a literal cult.”

Further, she noted in one of her emailed complaints that Snopes is not transparent in its funding section, according to IFCN principles. As I note in Section 4a below, I do not find support for this claim, and note that Snopes does have incorporation documents with the state of California included in its 2nd year review. The complainant takes issue with $700,000 Snopes raised from GoFundMe, noting it’s hard to know who could have donated money and that that is suspect. IFCN asks for disclosure of funding sources, and I believe Snopes noting that the money comes from the GoFundMe site is sufficient to meet the IFCN principles, and I do not believe that accepting money in this way to run the Snopes site has any influence on content or the nature of the fact checks it completes. It clearly lists its funding sources and how that money is spent in a spot online where any member of the public could find it, access it and, if necessary, inquire about it.

Its methodology, also, is clear and, perhaps more importantly, thorough and rigorous, with fact checks passing through a copy editor and at least two content editors. At times, Snopes notes online that it will reach out to relevant subject-area experts and historical documents to fact check claims. When that process fails, Snopes provides a clear, transparent corrections policy, and leaves corrections on its online content to note that the record has been updated stating what its error was.

Another issue that had Snopes in the news since its first-year review was completed, is a matter related to fact-checking satire, which, in today’s social and online media climate, seems like an interesting and, in my opinion, hefty endeavor. Satire site The Babylon Bee had a headline that read, “CNN Purchases Industrial-Sized Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication.” Snopes debunked the satire as a fake news story, leading Facebook to flag it and slowing The Babylon Bee’s diffusion of the piece (and therefore its ability to profit from it). The Bee’s founder told Poynter that it’s a satire site meant to entertain. But, Snopes weighed in on the industrial washing machine and called it out. Other satire sites like The Onion have also been the subject of Snopes’ reviews, mainly because members of the public have asked Snopes to fact check claims they see online directly or circulated through social media.

Snopes founder David Mikkelson told Poynter in an email over that dustup: “Our standard has always been that we tackle whatever people are asking about or questioning at the moment; we don't make any value judgments about what's too silly or obvious or unimportant to cover. There are scads of web articles and websites dedicated to poking fun at people who mistook Onion material for literal news reporting, so clearly nothing is so obvious that at least some portion of the audience won't question or believe it.”

As that Poynter piece noted, there is a fine line between satire and misinformation. One that requires transparency on the part of the satire site and some understanding by the audience of what satire is. But, it seems clear in the last two years that audiences more and more have a tough time distinguishing real news, fake news and satire. That’s a media literacy issue on the part of the audience, in my opinion, and I give credit to Snopes for its transparency saying, “it was flagged to us, we checked it and it’s false.” That seems to be what IFCN wants from its certified sites.

Perhaps this is another issue for Facebook, and one that I think is important enough to note here because it will be an issue beyond Snopes-The Babylon Bee that IFCN will need to work through. That is, should IFCN-designated groups that flag satire receive some different qualification or warning on Facebook than, say, a flat-out falsehood related to politics or government? Or, should the IFCN work on strengthening its principles for fact checking groups on news sites that ONLY deal with government actions or official statements, leaving the sites that it earmarks as accredited by IFCN that deal with urban legend or satire another designation? Further, does Snopes fact-checking two people playing tennis on the wings of an airplane deserve the same designation from IFCN as The Washington Post’s fact-checking apparatus?

These may be questions that IFCN must address in the future as it seems likely that satire and purposeful misinformation will likely be more of what some websites are forced to try to debunk. But, I do not see those as issues for this review. Snopes, in my opinion, meets all of what IFCN asks of its groups and I recommend approval. 

on 17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago)

Margot Susca recommended Accept


Section 1: Organization

Criterion 1a
Proof of registration
Evidence required: Please provide evidence that the signatory is a legally-registered organization set up exclusively for the purpose of fact-checking or the distinct fact-checking project of a recognized media house or research institution.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

The evidence submitted complies with IFCN requirements.


done_all 1a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 1b
Archive
Evidence required: Insert a link to the archive of fact checks published in the previous three months. If you do not collect all fact checks in one place, please explain how the fact-checking is conducted by your organization.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

The evidence submitted complies with IFCN requirements.


done_all 1b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 2: Nonpartisanship and Fairness

Criterion 2a
Body of work sample
Evidence required: Please share links to ten fact checks that better represent the scope and consistency of your fact-checking. Provide a short explanation of how your organization strives to maintain coherent standards across fact checks.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

In general, as explained at http://www.snopes.com/topic-selection/, we maintain coherent standards across fact checks by basing our topic selection on whatever items are most popular without regard to whether the issues they address are liberal/conservative, Democratic/Republican, religious/secular, or any other qualifier, and without making our judgments of our own about whether they merit coverage based on their perceived importance, controversiality, obviousness, or superficiality (or lack thereof). We strive to examine, explicate, and rate all relevant aspects of the items we tackle rather than simply assigning a monolithic truth rating that addresses only a single aspect.

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/bug-spray-high/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/nra-founded-protect-black-people-kkk/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/david-hogg-on-campus-rumor-hoax/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/did-trump-slap-mexico-city-mayor/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/muslim-migrants-attack-catholic-church-mass-france/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/amelia-earharts-remains-located/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/obama-force-fbi-delete-500000-fugitives/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/president-barack-obama-congratulate-putin-2012-win/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/is-there-a-warrant-for-cia-nominee-gina-haspels-arrest/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/putin-passport-salisbury-poison-attack/

https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/student-suspended-staying-in-class/

Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

“Unlike many other sites in the online fact-checking world, at Snopes.com we do not exclusively focus on politics (although political fact-checking makes up a large portion of our work). When it comes to politics and other social and topical issues, we have long observed the principle that we write about whatever items the greatest number of readers are asking about or searching for at any given time, without any partisan considerations. We don’t choose (or exclude) items for coverage based on whether they deal with Republican/Democratic, conservative/liberal, or religious/secular issues. We also don’t impose our own judgments about whether a given item’s perceived importance, controversiality, obviousness, or superficiality (or lack thereof) merit our addressing it. (We are, of course, limited in how much we can cover by our available resources and staffing.)”


done_all 2a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 2b
Nonpartisanship policy
Evidence required: Please share evidence of your policy preventing staff from direct involvement in political parties and advocacy organizations. Please also indicate the policy your organization has as a whole regarding advocacy and supporting political candidates.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

“Members of the Snopes.com editorial staff are precluded from donating to, or participating in, political campaigns, political party activities, or political advocacy organizations.

Any editorial staff member can be reached via e-mail through the Contact links that appear on every page of the site.”


done_all 2b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 3: Transparency of Sources

Criterion 3a
Sources Policy
Please share a brief and public explanation (500 words max) of how sources are provided in enough detail that readers could replicate the fact check. If you have a public policy on how you find and use sources for your fact-checking, it should be shared here.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

The evidence submitted complies with IFCN requirements.


done_all 3a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 4: Transparency of Funding & Organization

Criterion 4a
Funding Sources
Evidence required: Please link to the section where you publicly list your sources of funding (including, if they exist, any rules around which types of funding you do or don't accept), or a statement on ownership if you are the branch of an established media organization or research institution.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

"Snopes.com as a business entity is operated as an S corporation registered in the state of California.

Snopes.com derives the bulk of our operating revenue from online advertising: we have no active sponsors, donors, investors, or other regular sources of income. Advertisers have no contact with the site’s editorial staff and do not in any way influence the content we publish. We do not accept political advertising, nor do we accept any other form of funding from political parties, political campaigns, or political advocacy groups.

In 2017, we raised approximately $700,000 from a crowd-sourced GoFundMe effort. We also received $100,000 from Facebook for our participation in Facebook’s fact checking partnership program.

In 2016, Snopes.com received a one-time award of $75,000 from the James Randi Educational Foundation as part of an annual award given by that foundation to “a person or organization who best represents the spirit of the foundation in providing unbiased, fact based answers to confusing questions.”

In calendar year 2016, the revenues earned by Snopes.com were used as follows:

Employee compensation: 34%

Technical support, development, and advertising services: 37%

Overhead and other expenses (e.g., equipment, travel, education and training): 12%

Carried over to 2017 for growth and expenses: 17%

Any changes to Snopes.com revenue and monetization strategy will be reflected on this page.”


done_all 4a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 4b
Staff
Evidence required: Please link to the section detailing all authors and key actors behind your fact-checking project with their biographies. You can also list the name and bios of the members of the editorial board, pool of experts, advisory board, etc. if your organization has those.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

The evidence submitted complies with IFCN requirements.


done_all 4b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 4c
Contact
Evidence required: Please link to the section where readers can get in touch with the organization.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

The evidence submitted complies with IFCN requirements.


done_all 4c marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 5: Transparency of Methodology

Criterion 5a
Detailed Methodology
Evidence required: Please link to a section or article detailing the steps you follow for your fact-checking work.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

The evidence submitted complies with IFCN requirements.


done_all 5a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 5b
Claim submissions
Evidence required: Please link to the page or process through which readers can submit claims to fact-check. If you do not allow this, please briefly explain why.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

The evidence submitted complies with IFCN requirements.


done_all 5b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Section 6: Open & Honest Corrections Policy

Criterion 6a
Corrections policy
Evidence required: Please link to the page with your policy to address corrections. If it is not public, please share your organization's handbook.

Snopes.com
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago
Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

“Our policy is to promptly correct errors of fact and to clarify any potentially confusing or ambiguous statements in our articles. Readers can submit potential corrections through the “Feedback” link that appears at the foot of every article; those submissions will be routed to an editor for evaluation and action.

Whenever we change the rating of a fact check (for any reason), correct or modify a substantive supporting fact (even if it does not affect the item’s overall rating), or add substantial new information to an existing article, those changes are noted and explained in an Update box at the foot of the article.

Corrections of typographical errors, misspellings, or other minor revisions not deemed substantive by our editors are not noted.”


done_all 6a marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.

Criterion 6b
Examples of corrections
Evidence required: Please provide two examples of a correction made, or correction requests handled, in the past year.

Margot Susca Assessor
17-Aug-2018 (1 year ago) Updated: 1 year ago

The evidence submitted is compliant with IFCN requirements


done_all 6b marked as Fully compliant by Margot Susca.