Snopes wasn’t trying to make a statement when it announced the end of its partnership with Facebook last week.
David Mikkelson, founder of the fact-checking organization, said there was a reason Snopes announced the breakup on a Friday afternoon, which any media-savvy person will tell you is primetime for burying news. Mikkelson decided to go public for a simple reason, one core to the Snopes mission: he wanted to set the record straight.
“We didn’t think it right to have the press and other accounts continue to refer to us as a Facebook partner when that wasn’t the case, Mikkelson told GeekWire. “We’re a fact-checking organization, we don’t want to misinformation about ourselves out there.”
Mikkelson, who is based in the Seattle area, leads one of the longest-running fact-checking organizations on the Internet.
For the past two years, Facebook has contracted with Snopes and others to fact check content in an effort to stem the tide of misinformation for which the social network has become infamous. In December, the partnership expired, and Snopes couldn’t get Facebook to the bargaining table to renew, according to Mikkelson.
“We didn’t agree on the terms of renewal and the lack of communication on Facebook’s part pretty much made any further negotiation impossible,” he said. “You can’t negotiate terms by yourself. Over a month had gone by. Facebook wasn’t getting back to us. We hadn’t been part of the partnership for that full month since it expired. We let them know that if we didn’t hear from them, we were going to have to make a public announcement.”
In a statement, a Facebook spokesperson said, “we value the work that Snopes has done, and respect their decision as an independent business.”
Facebook’s relationship with third-party fact-checkers is controversial. Brooke Binkowski, a former editor for Snopes, told The Guardian that Facebook “essentially used us for crisis PR” back in 2018.
Mikkelson said Binkowski’s comments didn’t reflect Snopes’ official position but did question Facebook’s strategy for dealing with misinformation. When fact-checkers flag posts as false, Facebook marks them as “disputed” with links to articles explaining why. Mikkelson said Facebook also reduces the reach of those posts but allows them to remain on the site.
“It’s pretty binary,” he said. “It’s true or false, and if it’s false then shouldn’t it be stopped entirely? I don’t really understand the philosophy of, ‘Well, we’ll leave it out there, just not as much.'”
He said that post-Facebook, his team will be focused on vetting information tied to the 2020 election.
On Tuesday, Facebook announced Lead Stories will join the 34 third-party fact-checking organizations that partner with the social network.
“Fighting misinformation takes a multi-pronged approach from across the industry,” Facebook’s spokesperson said. “We are committed to fighting this through many tactics, and the work that third-party fact-checkers do is a valued and important piece of this effort.”