We receive about 50 or more contacts per day from people submitting sources to add to the website, fact check requests and complaints and/or suggestions to improve the website. Today, I want to address a complaint that we frequently receive. This complaint involves Snopes. Almost every morning I awaken to a person saying we are wrong to list Snopes as “least biased” because they believe they are extremely liberal. This of course leads to accusations that MBFC is liberally biased. I typically don’t respond to these, but I feel now is the time to address this publicly as it happens daily. By the way, we also get mail accusing us of being extreme right. As I have said on many occasions, I see this as doing a good job. If hate mail only came from one group I would reconsider.
I want to clarify why Snopes is least biased (not unbiased), as to be completely unbiased defies human nature. We all have biases and no matter how hard we try most of us will fall victim to confirmation bias (gravitating toward information that feels right to you even though it might be wrong). I believe confirmation bias plays a huge role in how people perceive fact checkers. I also believe that the right wing media campaign to discredit fact checkers plays a significant role. When I ask people to list credible fact checkers, who are not Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck etc. I never get an answer. My thought is that if these sources are not credible there must be other credible sources. Who are they and what established criteria are they using?
When we evaluate a source we strictly use our methodology that looks at 4 criteria. Every source goes through this process. I want to break down Snopes for you so that you can see how and why it scores least biased by our criteria.
We always evaluate a minimum of 10 articles, or more, if necessary to be accurate. First, we look at wording. This starts by looking at the headlines. Do the headlines have loaded (emotional) words in them? Yes or no? We then move on to compare that the headlines match the actual content of the article. We score on a 0 – 10 scale, with 0 being perfect and 10 being dreadful. This has a subjective component as what might be dreadful to one reviewer might be more tolerable to another. Hence, why we have multiple reviewers. Back to Snopes. On wording and headlines we score Snopes at 0. Their headlines usually just ask a question and do not convey emotion or opinion. The actual content of the article matches the headline without deception. It asks the question and then answers it using sources to support the claim.
Next, we look at how factual/well sourced the articles are. Do they list sources and are they credible? In other words, are they going directly to the source, such as transcripts of what someone said and/or to low biased news agencies such as Reuters etc. On sourcing, Snopes always lists where the info comes from and when they cannot be certain they list the claim as Unproven or Mixed. On factual sourcing we score them 0 again as they are very thorough.
The third step is to look at reporting choices. Does the source report both liberal and conservative view points and do they cover them equally? Snopes fact checks everything. If you go to their page right now you will see they are covering a diverse collection of claims. On story selection we score Snopes a 2. This means that they tend to fact check more conservative claims than liberal, but not by very much. We don’t have a raw total, but a basic scan reveals it is close.
Lastly, we look at their political affiliation. This is pretty much a summary of everything we have learned through the first 3 steps and then factor in research about the people behind the website and also funding. Snopes was founded by David Mikkelson who is a political independent, and the website is funded through advertising and not corporate/political donations. Therefore, we score Snopes a 2 on political affiliation as they do cover more conservative fact checks by a very small margin and funding does not seem to be a factor.
If you add up our scores 0 + 0 + 2 + 2 = 4. and then divide this score by 4 and we get a score of 1. Any score between 0-2 is listed as least biased. Snopes is listed on the left side of least biased by our criteria, but not enough to be considered Left-Center.
I know this will not convince all that Snopes is least biased, but I hope it sheds light on the methodology and why it scores the way it does. I am certain I will have many complaints regarding why many right wing claims are false and that perhaps is another article and there is an explanation for that too.
I am expecting this article will not go over well with some.
By Dave Van Zandt