Earlier this summer, Christian “humor” site The Babylon Bee (think of it as The Onion, if the blog catered to the far-right and employed only inept, unfunny bloggers) published an article titled, “Georgia Lawmaker Claims Chick-Fil-A Employee Told Her To Go Back To Her Country, Later Clarifies He Actually Said ‘My Pleasure.’” It was presumably meant as a parody of a viral Facebook post from July, in which Erica Thomas, a Georgia state representative, said a white man in a grocery store told her to “go back” to where she came from. According to the New York Times, the accused man disputed the Thomas’ story, identifying himself as a Democrat—which sparked outrage on the right, inspiring “humor” blogs like the one posted on the Babylon Bee.
However! The blog was unfunny to the point where it was not easily identifiable as satire, or anything remotely resembling comedy. So Snopes—a fact-checking website that debunks trending stories and reader-submitted suggestions—published a fact-check of the story a few days later, titled “Did a Georgia Lawmaker Claim a Chick-fil-A Employee Told Her to Go Back to Her Country?”. Spoiler: she did not.
With me so far?
Here’s where it gets spicy. The Snopes piece, which has since been updated, originally included a dig of a sub-hed, critiquing the Bee’s lame attempt at humor. “We’re not sure if fanning the flames of controversy and muddying the details of a news story classify an article as ‘satire,’”it read according to The New York Times, adding that the piece was likely written “in an apparent attempt to maximize the online indignation.” Naturally, the Babylon Bee folk took offense at the characterization of their humor as unfunny and rude. The chief executive of the site, Seth Dillon, went on Fox News last week to blast Snopes and said:
“The reason we have to take it seriously is because social networks, which we depend on for our traffic, have relied upon fact-checking sources in the past to determine what’s fake news and what isn’t... In cases where they’re calling us fake news and lumping us in with them rather than saying this is satire, that could actually damage us. It could put our business in jeopardy.”
Perhaps he hasn’t read his website’s newsletter tagline recently, which is literally, “Fake news you can trust, delivered straight to your inbox.”
If Babylon Bee and its followers are suggesting that Snopes was too critical of them because of political motivations, perhaps they shouldn’t have published an article last week titled, “Snopes Issues Pre-Approval Of All Statements Made During Tonight’s Democratic Debate,” which the Times reported “became the top-performing article on Facebook related to the topic ‘democratic debate.’” If that doesn’t reek of conspiratorial energy, I don’t know what does.
Facebook users aren’t savvy at identifying the thin line between satire and fake news, if there’s even one to begin with. Something tells me the Babylon Bee knows that.