Snopes has a Lean Left bias.
Table of Contents
- June 2021 Independent Review: Snopes Moved to Lean Left
- June 2020 Editorial Review Shows Evidence of Lean Left Bias
- Third-Party Accusations of Bias
- About Snopes
June 2021 Independent Review: Snopes Moved to Lean Left
AllSides moved Snopes' rating to Lean Left following a June 2021 independent review by AllSides editors on the left, center and right. It was previously rated Center.
We reviewed the numerous instances of Snopes' left-wing bias that we found during our June 2020 Editorial Review, such as slant. We also noted a number of times that Snopes had recently interpreted things in favor of the left, including when it "fact checked" a subjective opinion on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), when it defended Gov. Andrew Cuomo by saying an accurate tweet about him was "Mostly False," and when it "fact-checked" satire from humor website The Babylon Bee (an entry Snopes then had to edit following criticism).
AllSides noted that Snopes' story choice is generally favorable to the left, and it lacks fact checks on subjects that speak to a conservative or more right-wing audience. Its collections page also showed left bias, with the first page still predominantly highlighting Trump.
At the time, AllSides also noted that RealClearPolitics' Fact Check Review found that 89% of Snopes articles from January 27, 2021 to June 26, 2021 used at least one media source as verification for its claims, rather than using original sources. The percentage "captures how many claims by [the] fact checker relied at least in part on media reporting as “truth” for its verification task," RCP writes. "When fact checkers rely on media for verification, this creates a cycle in which media cite fact checkers which in turn cite media. Ideally, fact checking should involve primary source verification, rather than relying on secondary news reporting as verification."
June 2020 Editorial Review Shows Evidence of Lean Left Bias
AllSides conducted an Editorial Review of Snopes on June 2, 2020. We concluded that Snopes warranted a Center rating, though most on the team acknowledged that Snopes may have had a slight Lean Left bias.
AllSides noted that Snopes didn't craft headlines as "gotcha!" phrases like other fact checkers did, but instead always posed headlines as a question, which was a more neutral way of addressing claims.
The AllSides team was impressed that Snopes did not label claims in a binary of "true" and "false," but acknowledged nuance and complexity by having a number of labels for its claims, including "mostly true," "miscaptioned," "outdated," "unproven," and others.
Some noted Snopes seemed to fact-check right-wing claims a bit more than left-wing claims. Others noted elite bias — a type of ideological bias — in Snopes' fact checking. Snopes seemed to stand by people, not values, and would come to the rescue of the elite class more often than falling on the side of populist concerns and claims.
Snopes also seemed to fact check falsehoods more often than claims that turned out to be true. Fact checking implies much nuance, and we noted that when it was a tough call, Snopes did often give a subjective interpretation in favor of the left. For example, some questioned why Snopes stated clearly that Trump did not refer to coronavirus as a "hoax," yet seemed to contradict itself by marking the claim that he did as "mixed." Another noted that Snopes' claim that mail-in ballots do not increase risk of voter fraud omitted evidence that mail-in voter fraud does occur.
Another example was a piece about the criminal record of George Floyd, which had some left-leaning bias. Snopes stated: "On multiple occasions, police would make sweeps through the complex [Floyd lived in] and end up detaining a large number of men, including Floyd, a neighborhood friend named Tiffany Cofield told the AP. Additionally, Texas has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, per the Prison Policy Initiative, and several studies show authorities are way more likely to target Black Texans for arrests than white residents." Note that the text does not indicate or investigate why police made sweeps (did they have evidence criminal activity was occurring in the complex?), nor did Snopes ask police for their justification, giving the impression the sweeps were for no reason and were unjust; Snopes also didn't provide evidence to back up the claim that black Texans are "targeted" overall — some argue black Texans are arrested more often because they disproportionately commit more crime. Additionally, the sources linked to back up the claim that black Texans are more likely to be arrested show they are more likely to be arrested for drug possession, not all crimes. Here, Snopes was engaging in slant, a type of media bias when a source doesn't explore both sides or tell the full story.
Snopes featured curated Associated Press articles on its site, which were somewhat balanced, but leaned left at times. Some team members noted Snopes did not adhere to a set of values or morality in fact-checking claims; it simply checked claims for factual accuracy.
Overall, the AllSides team got the sense that the Snopes editorial team is likely largely made up of left-wing folks, but that Snopes did a good job of being balanced. While some examples of left-wing bias appeared, it was not enough to give Snopes a media bias rating of Lean Left at the time; overall, Snopes did a good job of looking only at facts and remaining balanced. On its staff page, Snopes indicated staff members were barred from participating in political campaigns.
Third-Party Claims of Bias
RealClearPolitics' Fact Check Review found that in July 2018, 90% of Snopes fact checks cited other media sources instead of consulting primary sources for fact checks.
Some, such as Jerome William Berglund, writing at Medium, have said that Snopes creates strawmen arguments, which it then "deunks." Others, such as pro-life site Life News, have accused Snopes of being a "mouthpiece for liberal Democrats."
Investors Business Daily writes of Snopes,
"We had firsthand experience with errant fact checks when Snopes published one in April claiming that IBD had "resuscitated" a "false" claim about 3.5 million more registered voters than eligible voters. In fact, we'd published that editorial eight months earlier — as was obvious from the time stamp on the article itself. (It went viral this spring on Facebook.) Snopes later rewrote that section of its fact check — but never acknowledged its original mistake. It also changed the ruling on the underlying claims from "false" to "mixture."
"Snopes also takes on a more opinionated and critical tone in its analyses than most news media outlets.
The result is a lot of recycled information, repackaged as a judgment call on whether or not the story was true. A perfect example was the recent Snopes analysis on the sex trafficking allegations against Wayfair, an online furniture and home-goods company. Social media users claimed that certain items on Wayfair’s website were overpriced as a disguise for selling children. The names of some pieces of furniture, for example, could be matched with children who recently went missing.
Snopes labeled the Wayfair allegations as objectively “false,” but its investigation into the sex trafficking claims depended heavily on personal suspicions and theories. “The more we pondered this claim, the more nonsensical it appeared,” Snopes author Dan Evon wrote of the allegation. “Would a large business really use their official website to allow people to purchase children online?”
The author went on to cite Wayfair’s statement that “[t]here is, of course, no truth to these claims,” and wrote off specific allegations by simply noting that they originated on Reddit forums, not police reports.
Snopes is a website that says it conducts "fact checking and original, investigative reporting [that] lights the way to evidence-based and contextualized analysis," according to its About page.
"We always document our sources so readers are empowered to do independent research and make up their own minds." According to its Disclosures page, Snopes is "wholly owned and operated by Snopes Media Group Inc. (SMG), a California-based S Corporation. SMG is overseen by a board of directors comprising David Mikkelson, Brad Westbrook, and Chris Richmond."
In 2019, Snopes was tapped by Facebook for its Third-Party Fact Checking Program, alongside the Associated Press, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, and AFP United States. Snopes reportedly withdrew from the initiative a year later, citing “the ramifications and costs of providing third-party fact-checking services," according to Variety.
In 2016, Snopes' main fact checker reportedly described herself as "openly left-leaning," according to The Daily Caller.
Snopes’ founders, David Mikkelson and his former wife Barbara, reportedly founded the site after meeting in a fantasy/folklore-themed internet message board. There were allegations amid their divorce (and subsequent Snopes ownership battle) that David had used company funds ($98,000) to pay for his divorce and to hire prostitutes, as well as to pay for his honeymoon with his second wife.