How conspiracy theories challenge Snopes’ mission to find the “truth"

Originally published at: How conspiracy theories challenge Snopes' mission to find the "truth" | Boing Boing


Wasn’t Snopes closing down at some point? What happened to that? I’m glad they are still around.


It doesn’t bother me that Snopes decided to start covering conspiracy theories, but it was never “apolitical”, and they didn’t just drift into it. Urban legends and conspiracy theories are categorically different – one is something whose truth is uncertain, and the other is an assertion that people are lying about an accepted truth.

If they wanted to, Snopes could very easily have stuck to rumors where people genuinely want to know the truth, and avoided rumors that are only believed by people who will view their debunking as a personal attack. Snopes consciously chose to side against those people, and IMO they picked the right side, but I’m not sure it achieves anything beyond provoking the chuds.


I don’t think the current consensus view of what knowledge and reality are is up to the task of this discussion. But I think, very simply, that fact checkers taking the side of facts in a war between facts and fascism is the right thing for fact checkers to do.


I don’t know how a society survives when accepting reality is a partisan issue. I guess we’ll find out.

I’m reminded of something I read the other day, where some Republican was trying to justify the treatment of Liz Cheney by saying that Democrats would do the same to someone who denied climate change. Which is really telling - denying reality gets you in trouble with Democrats, but accepting reality gets you in trouble with Republicans. And the Republicans acknowledge it.

Yeah, even urban legends are manifestations of political worldviews - I mean, “AIDS needles in candy” has a pretty obvious sub-surface political agenda behind it.


El Rushbo was skilled at throwing a Chicken Neck of Truth into the Caldron of Lies and Bullshit, & convincing his rubes that they were being fed the finest in gourmet chicken soup, only available to his enlightened listeners.

Not sure how to stop this sort of thing, since CTs seem immune to mere facts.

They are attempting to create their own Reality, & I don’t think they have room in there for anyone else.
Better hope the Filibuster gets ousted, because that is their finger-hold on power.


There’s no fine line between the two. Plus, if they had intentionally stayed away from a topic like 9/11, then 9/11 Truthers could actually use Snopes’ non-engagement as ammunition that their conspiracy theories were true.


It would be nice if “accepting reality” was always associated with progressives and rejecting it with regressives, but it sadly isn’t the case. Most people don’t have adequate scientific knowledge to understand the issues themselves and simply latch on to whatever position on a scientific topic their “tribe” supports. For example, while I’m glad that supporting vaccines now have become a progressive position,this wasn’t always the case. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the anti-vax position was promoted by left-wing people like RFK jr. and the late Art Bell (who was kind of the left-wing Alex Jones).


RFK jr isn’t right wing but Art Bell is a life long libertarian


The anti-vaxxers have been somewhat on both sides of the spectrum (even if Republicans have adopted it as a party position of late), with hippie types on the left being into that, but it was a fringe position. On the other hand, the right has long been associated with all kinds of reality denial - everything around sexual orientation, climate change denial, belief in young Earth creationism and the associated broad denials of biology, geology, astronomy, etc. And it wasn’t like it was just some right-wing fringe, this was Republican mainstream. Republican politicians couldn’t acknowledge these realities if they wanted to hold office, and for the most part still can’t. Republican members of congress have championed astronomy-denying creationists who claimed everything NASA said was a lie (and part of a Jewish conspiracy), other planets and stars didn’t exist, etc., and that was normal.

Reality denial has definitely not been a “both sides” problem, at least not to remotely the same degree.


This is the RFK jr who licked Trump’s boot and crawled into bed with neo-nazis?


The scare quotes in the headline and the article are part of the problem. Taking an axe to the foundations of knowledge and promulgating a disregard for the concept of truth and falsehood within society has consequences.


I think it really depends what parts of reality you are talking about. As a professional biologist, yes, while I agree that Creationism and climate change denial is overwhelming right-wing affairs, I think it is much more mixed in other parts of science, both at the level of politicians and lay people. It isn’t just a “fringe” problem.

For example, consider alternative “medicine” like homeopathy? Why is this even a thing we are taking seriously in the 21st century? Largely because former Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was obsessed with it and used his discretionary funds in the 1990s to create a unit of the NIH (NCCAM) dedicated to funding research on things like homeopathy, acupuncture and the like which continues to this day. This in turn has led to many medical schools adding courses on these things and giving them legitimacy in the eyes of the public that they don’t deserve. This isn’t just a few hippies getting high and looking at crystals – this is a dangerous undermining of medical science. Which has consequences. People are dying because they think some herbal remedy for their cancer is better than chemotherapy.

@smut_clyde What are you even going on about?


I know two very intelligent lefties – and I mean solidly on the left – that have gone way into covid/vaccine BS. It’s quite frustrating. I receive garbage, and I patiently review it with an open mind. I send back links to debunk their bunk, and I don’t think one bit of it gets read or watched. Neither is getting vaccinated. Their minds are made up, and BS is all they want to consume.


Not convinced by the description of RFK Jnr as “left-wing”.


When truth became subject to political beliefs instead of objective the days for Snopes were numbered.

I’ve mentioned here before that I recently wrote a novel about an addiction support group for conspiracy theorists who accidentally blow a hole in reality

This sounds like a great indie pen and paper RPG.

Reminds me alittle of A PENNY FOR MY THOUGHTS

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Lets be honest, the “left wing” in your examples are global centrist. When I think of left wing conspiracy theorists, I think of Posadists.


Personal story.

I’m a bit of skeptic myself, and I debunk… bunk when I see it. A couple years back, before COVID, I was on Twitter debating antivaxxer trolls (waste of time, I know, but I was naive then). When someone brought up the “Bill Gates didn’t vax his own kids” hoax. So I posted link to both Politifacts and Snopes debunking that myth.

It was really no surprise that the other side named some BULL**** fake news website as their “proof” and called Snopes BS.

I then showed him the REAL origin of the story he cited… and that place had previous headlines like “Katy Perry says ‘Human Flesh is The Best Mea’” and other crap.

The poster claimed that’s just as valid as Snopes and Politifacts.

Which is the point I blocked him as he’s clearly trolling.


Those sentences are a good summary of the two horns that make this a dilemma for me.

It doesn’t feel like an option to let people make up whatever truth they want, and not say anything. But simply replying on the same channel with the “correct” facts doesn’t fix the underlying problem, and in some ways may even make it worse, because it often ends up endorsing the idea that this is all a shouting contest.

When I see “anti-vaxxers DESTROYED by Science!!”, that makes me every bit as uncomfortable as “Drs are LYING to you about vaccines!!”, even if I happen to agree with the practical conclusion in the former case. In fact, the latter claim is less epistemologically bothering – doctors can lie, but “Science” can’t hand out answers as a supernatural oracle.

I’ve come to think the better answer is to go to the root of the problem: “I don’t think you really believe that, and I think you’re avoiding sources that don’t say what you want to hear”. It won’t change anyone’s mind on the spot, or recruit them to your team. But neither will fact-checking them; and this way, they can’t change the subject by quibbling at your evidence (which might even be wrong!). Conspiracy people have to be honest with themselves before they can have useful conversations with anyone else.