Facebook is now saying its decision to threaten to censor a Christian satire site because it was flagged by Snopes for reporting fake news was a mistake. The social media giant apologized, but that doesn’t make the censorship any less disconcerting.
The Babylon Bee set off Facebook’s alarm bells by publishing a satirical piece stating that CNN had purchased an “industrial-size washing machine to spin news before publication.” This is obviously a joke and is clearly marked satire and is published on a site entirely devoted to satire. But the uptight jerks over at Snopes decided to fact check the Bee’s claim, to ensure that no one actually thought that CNN “made a significant investment in heavy machinery.” Uh, okay. Thanks, Snopes! Would’ve totally fallen for that one!
Hours later, Adam Ford, who runs The Babylon Bee, got a notification warning him that the post had been flagged as so-called “fake news” by Snopes, and that if it happened again, the Bee’s Facebook page could face de-monetization and its posts would suffer a reduced reach.
Really, Facebook?? pic.twitter.com/HEtBc7C0Gz
— Adam Ford (@Adam4d) March 2, 2018
Not only did Facebook threaten to punish the Bee, the social network has also been warning its users who click on the obviously satirical post that it is, in fact, satire.
I find this so funny. pic.twitter.com/lfDBj4OVW7
— Nathan Hall (@Nate0fAmericans) March 2, 2018
“Before you share this content, you might want to know that there is additional reporting on this from Snopes.com,” Facebook suggested in a little pop up window.
Facebook has since apologized for the actions it took towards the Bee, according to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“There’s a difference between false news and satire,” the social network said in a statement to DCNF. “This was a mistake and should not have been rated false in our system. It’s since been corrected and won’t count against the domain in any way.”
In other words, Facebook is saying: Lol, sorry we threatened y’all with de-monetization. We like, totally didn’t mean it. But you can be sure that when we do mean to sandbag you, IT WILL BE SWIFT AND SEVERE.
Facebook’s statement, however well intended, doesn’t undo what happened to the Bee, nor does it erase the very serious and frightening implications of the social network’s power over information. In April, the social network announced it would let troll mobs decide what is and what isn’t fake news. A few months later, Facebook announced it would block ads from users it thinks are sharing “fake news.”
What happened to the Bee is just one example of the way the social network can arbitrarily decide what information they will bury and what they will lend a platform too. Similar arbitrary standards got them in trouble when former employees revealed that they routinely suppressed conservative news on purpose. And the fact that Facebook is now apparently relying on Snopes to sniff out who is sharing so-called “fake news” is totally insane.
Snopes has repeatedly fact-checked tongue-in-cheek claims by the satirical site, to make sure everyone know that it is indeed NOT A FEDERAL CRIME to play Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and that California Christians DO NOT NEED to register their Bible’s as assault weapons. Because they think people would really need Snopes to tell them that this is a joke.
Facebook isn’t that only information-sharer that has been relying on Snopes either. If you search for The Federalist on Google, outright falsehoods from the so-called fact checking website will pop up next to our publication’s name when it appears in the search results. As my colleague David Harsanyi wrote, the fact checks made by Snopes on The Federalist are totally false. And for whatever reason, Google has decided they will gives Snopes a hand in disseminating these lies on its search engine, but only next to conservative-leaning sites. You can read more about that here.
If Facebook has a shred of self-awareness, it would realize how foolish they look for relying on Snopes to sniff out fake news. And they would see that their fake news flagging scheme is ridiculous to begin with. But that’s probably not going to happen because the social network, and it’s overlords, are all too comfortable with censorship.