Ethics Alarms had already declared the fact-checking website Snopes.com untrustworthy, based on a series of partisan posts that intentionally muddied the factual waters rather than purifying them, when Facebook named it as one of its select gate-keepers to protect its readers from “fake news.” This was not wise, since a fact-checker who slants the facts is as useful as an accounting firm that will cook the books for a price. I laid out a series of conditions before I would ever use the service again, and so should Facebook. My non-negotiable demands before I would visit the site, reference it positively, or use it as authority were:
- Getting out of the political fact-checking business.
- Firing researchers who have been conclusively shown to engage in biased and shoddy research
- Confessing its betrayal of trust and capitulation to partisan bias, apologizing, and taking remedial measures.
However, there is more to consider. In an exclusive report so lurid that I assume it is credible only because publishing it without iron-clad verification would be asking for a lawsuit and worse, the Daily Mail has just revealed that…
- When Snopes was founded by spouses Barbara and David Mikkelson, they used a letterhead claiming they were a non-existent society to give credibility to their research.
- The couple is divorced, and Barbara claimed in legal documents that David embezzled $98,000 of company money to spend on “himself and prostitutes.”
- Now operating Snopes himself, David Mikkelson’s new wife Elyssa Young is employed by the website as “an administrator.” Before that, she worked as an escort and porn actress.
- She also ran for Congress in 2004 as a Libertarian on a ‘Re-Defeat Bush’ platform
- Kim LaCapria, one of the site’s main researchers and the author of the baised and misleading “fact-check” on Hillary Clinton’s representation of a child rapist, previously had a blog called “ViceVixen.”
The article also includes this:
David Mikkelson told the Dailymail.com that Snopes does not have a “standardized procedure” for fact-checking “since the nature of this material can vary widely.’” He said the process “involves multiple stages of editorial oversight, so no output is the result of a single person’s discretion.” He also said the company has no set requirements for fact-checkers because the variety of the work “would be difficult to encompass in any single blanket set of standards. Accordingly, our editorial staff is drawn from diverse backgrounds; some of them have degrees and/or professional experience in journalism, and some of them don’t.”
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:
Should any or all of the items in the Daily Mail story, it it is accurately reported, disqualify Snopes from being trusted by Facebook, its readers, or anyone else?
As I said at the outset, Snopes already has proven to me by clear and convincing evidence that it cannot be trusted. Let’s assume that you are, however, like Mark Zuckerberg and all of the other partyist and partisan citizens, pundits and journalists whose own judgment is already damaged by bias, and who so far haven’t found the Snopes deception on behalf of Democrats and Hillary Clinton anything but The Truth. The over-all portrait painted in the Daily Mail piece is one of an unprofessionally-managed and operated organization, and unprofessionally-managed and operated organizations, while they can be brilliant, innovative, flexible and occasionally productive, are not reliable. Normally we judge people and organizations on their results and not what the sausage looks like as it is made. Trust, however, requires more. If I have a babysitter I have used for years without incident, and find out that she is an alcoholic, her perfect record so far will not rescue her from my distrust.
The fact that Snopes’ founding couple are apparently lying about each other in divorce-related conflicts doesn’t trouble me too much, as experience shows that crimes of the heart can unhinge the most ethical of us. The rest of the Mirror story, however, depicts a text book example of an organization that never grew up. Many companies and non profits start out as loosely organized enterprises that are mission-oriented and eschew traditional structure, often under near dictatorial leadership from a charismatic founder. As these organizations grow and prosper with increasing success and visibility, however, they must either professionalize or fail. Snopes has already demonstrated that integrity rot is well underway, and the Mirror exposé makes it clear why.
Ad hoc, loosely-organized entities managed by the gut and populated with autonomous and quirky staff unrestrained by traditional professional standards are ticking time-bombs for ethical misconduct, negligence and incompetence. Trusting such an organization to handle a task as fraught with pollution by bias as news story confirmation is no less than madness.