2019 in Review: Darkness Spreads, But Snopes Readers Hold the Light

As we wrap a decade that saw dangerous and alarming trends in misinformation, we are thankful Snopes readers were there every day, calling ’em out.

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A decade ago rumors largely traveled by email forwards, most of them about President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Sadly, those emails are still circulating even as more pernicious and surreptitious machines of misinformation stoke the flames of fear, ignorance, and bigotry online.

Hours after Notre Dame burned, a clandestine network of Facebook pages sowed doubt about whether Muslims were to blame. The same week comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen delivered a stirring speech at the Anti-Defamation League (condemning social media platforms for perpetuating “the oldest conspiracy theory in history — the lie that Jews are somehow dangerous”), Pastor Rick Wiles posted a 90-minute anti-Semitic diatribe on his social channels, calling the impeachment inquiry in President Donald Trump a “Jew coup.” And despite our best efforts, Facebook seems not to hear the smoke alarms going off in their own halls. Not even death threats posted on their platform seemed to move them into effective action.

Misinformation presents greater problems than our “True/ False” ratings can solve alone. But as fact-checkers, we know that when the dark unknown overwhelms, the best way to begin is to point a flashlight and keep asking questions. That’s what Snopes readers do.

Every time you visit Snopes, or share a fact check, or contribute, you help dispel ignorance that only makes existing problems worse. Thank you.

Keep on fact-checking, and keep on scrolling to see highlights from Snopes’ work in 2019, which you helped make possible.

Truthfully yours,

team snopes signature

P.S. With your support, we’ll keep it going in 2020 and beyond.

Some of What the Snopes Dive Team Investigative Reporting Surfaced This Year

If Facebook Is Dealing with Deceptive ‘BL’ Network, It’s Not Working
A digital media outlet called “The BL” (“Beauty of Life”) used a huge network of fake accounts to spread political content. After Snopes broke this story and attempted to contact Facebook for months, the platform finally chose to act.

Hiding in Plain Sight: PAC-Connected Activists Set Up ‘Local News’ Outlets
A group of politically motivated entities is posing as newspapers in key battleground states going into the 2020 election.

‘The Ladder Down to Hell’: How Social Media Breeds Hate Speech
Social media platforms’ appear powerless to stop the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim rhetoric.

“I never dreamed a hobby I started in the earliest days of the internet would grow up to become one of history’s most important websites.”

David Mikkelson
Founder and CEO

Not-So-Small Business

It’s not easy to sustain an independent digital media company, but Snopes is up to the challenge. Some important milestones and celebrations our small business saw this year:

  • Sorry, Not Sorry: We withdrew from Facebook’s fact-checking program because growing editorial and ethical concerns far outweighed the benefits of the financial help this work provided us. As our VP Vinny Green told Digiday, “Facebook doesn’t need more help; it needs more competition.”
  • SLAPP Back: Our anti-SLAPP lawsuit against parties who have tried to “bring legal hell” on Snopes over the past two years was a success. Unfortunately, it was quickly appealed, and we’ve entered a waiting game. We’ll continue to keep readers updated on all developments (p.s. Speaking of lawsuits, did you see that John Oliver bit?)
  • Independence Matters: We built our own crowdfunding tool to support our first-ever membership campaign.
  • Funny Business: We added a new fact-check rating and methodology to better help readers with the ongoing problem of discerning between “satire” and real news.
  • This is the Way: This year we hired new staffers and promoted others; we saw five teammates buy first homes, sent one kiddo off to college and another to pre-K, and adopted at least two cats. We are so proud of these milestones because, while it should be attainable for everyone, too often it simply isn’t, especially among our colleagues working in the journalism and media industry. And we should all be talking about that. Providing competitive pay and benefits so that staff can support their families is crucial to bringing you a reliable fact-checking service, and reader support helps make it all possible.

Want Snopes to Keep On Killin’ It? Please become a member today.

Snopes Everywhere

Since we launched our first-ever membership campaign in December 2019, Snopes supporters have come from all over to become founding members. Join them.

Countries represented by Snopes members so far…

Fun Facts We Stumbled Upon Thanks to Reader Queries

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“Sincere thanks to the Snopes fans who stepped up to support us with generous financial contributions this year. You make our independent investigative reporting and fact-checking possible. With your support, Snopes can continue to grow, and make an outsized impact in the fight against junk news and disinformation. If you haven’t yet, learn about how you make a difference as a Founding Member.”

Vinny Green
General Manager

Most Read 2019 News Stories

In Mueller’s Own Words: Read the Special Counsel’s Summary of the Mueller Report
Amid conflicting characterizations of the Mueller Report and its findings before and after its release, Snopes published Mueller’s own executive summary of the document for public consumption. It’s still a must-read.

Was the ‘Media Silent’ About a ‘Democrat Transgender’ Colorado Shooting Suspect?
The aftermath of the May 7 mass shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, saw concerted attempts to politicize the tragedy coupled with spurious allegations that the media withheld information about the perpetrator’s motives.

Animal Rights Group Releases Disturbing Video from Fair Oaks Farm
A video released in June revealing the mistreatment of animals at an Indiana farm prompted a statement from its founder saying the footage was “disgusting” and that steps would be taken to ensure it never happens again.

Conspiracy: Jeffrey Epstein ‘Body Double’ Photos Explained
Almost instantly after high-profile sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in prison of an apparent suicide, conspiracy theorists took to the internet to promulgate alternative explanations for his demise.

Conspiracy Theorists Seem Perplexed by a Photo of Obama and Clooney. Here’s What It Shows
Purveyors of disinformation often do so under the guise of “just asking questions.” More often than not, said questions already have perfectly mundane and satisfactory answers.

Was Mr. Rogers Bisexual?
No one would have been more shocked than the button-down Fred Rogers to discover that he is being lauded as a hero of the bisexual community.

Did 250 Scientists Warn that Apple Airpods Pose a Cancer Risk?
Sometimes what passes for serious news ends up looking more like the children’s game of telephone.

Still on Replay

One of our most popular videos this year:

Most Viewed Fact Checks Reported This Year

Was Bill Nye Arrested for Selling Illegal Drugs?
A satirical story about Bill Nye “the Science Guy” tested the internet’s ability to distinguish fact from fiction. The internet failed…miserably.

Was Rapper XXXTentacion Found Alive?
Reports that XXXTentacion staged his own death originated with a website that enables users to publish mock news stories to prank their friends. Just the tool we needed.

Did Pelosi Divert $2.4 Billion from Social Security to Cover Impeachment Costs?
In another instance of so-called “satire” gone awry, an article tricked readers into spreading a false claim about the U.S. Speaker of the House.

Is This a Picture of Elise Stefanik Flipping the Bird at an Impeachment Inquiry?
Emotions ran high during the U.S. House impeachment inquiry, but apparently not high enough for one Photoshop mischief-maker.

Did U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar Marry Her Brother?
Unproven rumors about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota were seized upon by partisan opponents seeking to discredit her.

Was Kevin Hart Paralyzed After a Car Crash?
After Kevin Hart was injured in a September car accident, a satirical article gave rise to sensationalized rumors.

Is This 450-Pound Dog Real?
Photos showing a full-grown man dwarfed by his “450-pound dog” became an April Fools’ Day sensation.

Is This Photo of Adam Schiff and Jeffrey Epstein Real?
The Jeffrey Epstein sex-trafficking case inspired innumerable partisan attempts to assert guilt-by-association on the part of prominent politicians.

Will Woody Be Openly Bisexual in ‘Toy Story 4?’
Like so many false rumors these days, this claim originated on a satire website.

Did Megan Rapinoe ‘Stomp’ on an American Flag After the World Cup Final?
The celebration of the United States’ victory in the women’s World Cup final was marred by allegations of “unpatriotic” behavior.

Image credits: Hong Kong protest: Chris McGrath/Getty Images; Notre Dame: Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Getty Images; Calfornia Fire: Josh Edelson/Getty Images; Mark Zuckerberg: Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Megan Rapinoe: Franck Fife/Getty Images; Robert Mueller: Win McNamee/Getty Images; Rep. Ilhan Omar: Mark Wilson/Getty Images