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Sept. 22, 2017, 8:44 a.m.
Audience & Social

Stop giving photoshoots and admiring profiles to bros who make AdSense cash writing fake news

“Disinfobros.” Also: Snopes gets fact-checked about its own history, and Mark Zuckerberg is transformed by a meeting with a Waco minister.

The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with. This weekly roundup offers the highlights of what you might have missed.

The man behind Snopes. Michelle Dean profiles Snopes publisher David Mikkelson in Wired. “He’s got the world­view of Eeyore, had Eeyore been obsessed with cataloging the precise history, variety, and growing seasons of thistles in the Hundred Acre Wood.” The tenor of the site changed after 9/11, when Snopes went from debunking weird rumors (like whether Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen after death) to more serious political stuff; it also didn’t hire its first writer until 2014, and now has a (remote) staff of 16. A lot of the story focuses on the relationship between Mikkelson and his ex-wife, Barbara, providing background and insight into the ongoing legal battles you may have read about and shedding light on the role that Barbara played in the launch of the site, which is larger than her ex-husband likes to make it sound. Dean writes of Mikkelson’s GoFundMe campaign to save Snopes (it’s raised $691,000 so far, beating a $500,000 goal):

The nobility of the cause was self-evident, but I had spent months trying to understand the history of the site, and something about the fund-raiser had stuck in my craw. It was six little words on the GoFundMe: David had written that Snopes had begun as a ‘small one-person effort in 1994.’ There was no mention of Barbara. She only came up as journalists had begun to look at the documents in the business dispute, and then was usually mentioned as the other party in an acrimonious divorce.

The GoFundMe appeal was not the first time I’d seen David diminish Barbara’s role in building Snopes’ reputation. There was the claim in the divorce papers that she hadn’t been involved ‘other than bookkeeping’ in Snopes for years. And a curious thing had happened as Snopes grew and changed and switched web templates over the past three years: Increasingly, it was hard to find Barbara’s name. She wasn’t listed on the site’s About page. Posts she wrote—like the one about 9/11 and the Nostradamus predictions—now bear David’s byline rather than hers. David told me this is the result of a technical change made after Barbara left—the site migrated to a WordPress platform, which automatically populated bylines with his name.

When I asked Barbara to comment on the GoFundMe page, she noticed her erasure. “Was surprised to see my life’s work described as having been ‘a small one-­person effort,'” she wrote in a Facebook message to me.

Turns out people aren’t great at fact-checking their own lives and/or the roles their ex-wives played in their success.

Just another glowing profile of men spreading fake news. The Hollywood Reporter profiles the guys who run the fake news site Your News Wire, “emerging alongside the more high-profile Breitbart as an integral player in the Trump era’s L.A. alt-media axis.” The tone of the story is largely admiring/impressed (see also: That time that Radiolab took down its “Truth Trolls” episode.) Sean Adl-Tabatabai and Sinclair Treadway (who are both married and business partners) frequently clash with Snopes:

He and Treadway regularly find themselves in the sights of Snopes, the web’s best-regarded fact-checker, which wrote in May of YNW’s ‘track record of promoting false information.’ (It attempted to debunk the publication’s false-flag conspiracy reporting the British government knew in advance that Ariana Grande’s May 22 concert in Manchester would be bombed but “‘allowed’ this attack to happen in order to justify cracking down on the innocent population even further.”) Snopes head David Mikkelson observes that the couple also has a history of publishing what he considers defamatory claims about his own operation, and Snopes’ legal counsel has sent cease-and-desist notices.

Given Snopes’ role as one of Facebook’s official partners in efforts to address the spread of misinformation, Adl-Tabatabai says he has been weighing his options for a campaign against what he sees as a competitor with an unfair stranglehold on dictating reality.

Mark Zuckerberg on fake news. Bloomberg’s Max Chafkin and Sarah Frier have a big interview with him.

If you think the whole world supports Trump, because Facebook exclusively shows you content from your Trump-supporting friends, then it’s easy to believe the pope does, too.

Zuckerberg had mostly shrugged off these critiques — Facebook’s algorithms, he argues, expose people to more viewpoints than they’d otherwise see — but he says he began examining the role that human curation might have after meeting with a religious leader in Waco who told him about counseling members of his congregation who’d been laid off during a factory closure. ‘Every great community has great leaders who take responsibility for people’s well-being,” he says.

Illustration from L.M. Glackens’ The Yellow Press (1910) via The Public Domain Review.

POSTED     Sept. 22, 2017, 8:44 a.m.
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