What a surprise.
You know, I hate to resort to mockery, sarcasm and “I told you so” on an ethics blog, but sometimes nothing else will do. Snopes fooled me for a while: in 2010, I described the fact-checking site as doing “a superb job tracking down and clarifying web hoaxes, rumors and other misinformation.”As late as early 2016 I was relying on Scopes, and then it began to dawn on me that, like most factchecking sites (Factcheck.com is better than the rest), Snopes miraculously only saw false stories when they either impugned conservatives, or were non-political, like the three-breasted woman. 2016 saw Snopes joining the mainstream news media in shilling for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, and the jig was up. After tracing many examples Snopes partisanship, I kissed the site off with this post, marking it as an Unethical Website Of The Month (July, 2016).
I wonder if I should contact all the furious commenters defending Snopes on that post and ask them their thoughts on today’s revelations.
A BuzzFeed News investigation found that David Mikkelson, the site’s co-founder and chief executive, authored and published dozens of articles plagiarized from other news outlets. His objective, we are told, was ” to scoop up web traffic.” Gee, you mean pandering to progressives and Democrats, doing regular hit-jobs on Republicans and issuing biased and dishonest “factchecks” with clickbait titles wasn’t enough? Fascinating.
The Snopes editorial staff is conducting an investigation of how many articles written by Mikkelson featured plagiarized content. Last week dozens of his articles were removed and retracted from the site. Yet Mikkelson, who owns 50% of Snopes Media Group will still be be Snopes’s chief executive! His ability to publish articles has been revoked, the Snopes CEO explained. Oh! Everything’s fixed, then! Carry on!
Snopes should do a factcheck on whether the fish really does rot from the head down. (Hint: it does.) Organizations founded by and led by unethical leaders cannot avoid nurturing unethical cultures: this is a basic truth of both leadership and organization ethics. Mikkelson has given out plenty of clues that he lacks functioning ethics alarms: when Snopes was again named Unethical Website of the Month here in December, 2018, Mikkelson defended an undeniably misleading photo it used in a factcheck by saying, “Our audience is intelligent enough to understand the difference between a literal representation and a symbolic one.” Funny, nobody let Presient Trump get away with that argument. My analysis concluded, “This unconscionable, Dan Rather-like “It’s true, just not accurate” argument should be sufficient, all by itself, to prove Snopes’ lack of trustworthiness.” So should the fact that its founder and leader cheated in order to get more traffic for his website. If he’ll do that, he’ll let others do that, and if others do that, then Snopes’ factchecks serve its own agenda, not truth, and not the public interest.
None of this comes as the slightest surprise here, not at all. Yet Facebook, among others, used this manipulative and partisan group to perform alleged factchecks to assist Facebook’s partisan censorship of “misinformation.” Snopes itself is misinformation: a factchecking website must be reliable, trustworthy and objective, and it is not.
Here’s the act of signature significance: allowing Mikkelson to keep his job. The message is clear: “We think you are so stupid that you’ll believe our articles even though our leader lied in his for years, because persoannly he won’t be in a position to steal content any more, though he”l still be in charge.” I’m trying to think of any organization that has done something like this. Maybe the closest is ACORN, the corrupt community organizing group, that discovered that its treasurer, Dale Rathke, the brother of ACORN’s founder Wade Rathke, had embezzled $948,607.50 from the group and affiliated charitable organizations. Incredibly, Rathke was allowed to stay on as treasurer, because the group thought the truth would lose them contributions and members.
Snopes behaved like an unethical and untrustworthy organization, so Ethics Alarms flagged it as one. It wasn’t hard; the proof was right in front of everyone. Those who continued to rely on Snopes demonstrated, once again, that bias makes you stupid….or that they were just as corrupt as Snopes is.