Article

'Pivoting To This Story Hard': Inside Snopes' Newsroom During Jan. 6 Capitol Attack

On the first anniversary of the siege, here's a look into how Snopes staff members fielded rumors in real time.

Published Jan 5, 2022

 (Snopes montage)
Image Via Snopes montage

Just before lunchtime on Jan. 5, 2021, @realDonaldTrump was only a few dozen tweets away from what would end up being the account’s last, putting focus on then-Vice President Mike Pence.

According to the account, Pence was the only person with “the power” to block Joe Biden from the White House by supposedly disrupting a Congressional ceremony to certify electoral votes the following day. 

“Like, that’s the rule and all,” a Snopes fact checker wrote to colleagues on Slack. “But what if he does [block]? What if he just says ‘nahhhhhh, trump wins.’”

Even some of the closest observers of the routine, constitutionally mandated process to cement voters’ pick for president — groups that included the Snopes newsroom, historians, U.S. elections experts,  etc. — were uncertain whether it could stand against the Trump campaign. For months, Trump and his allies promised supporters that they could halt or slow down the certification process to somehow hold onto the presidency.

Trump repeated that pledge on stage near the White House on the morning of Jan. 6. 

Many of us in the newsroom tuned in to his televised speech as soon as it started around noon (EST), while the rest of us attempted to stay focused on other daily tasks. (That latter group was dealing with unfounded rumors that aimed to delegitimize results in Georgia’s two Senate runoff races that surfaced overnight.) But, by the end of the roughly 70-minute speech, everyone’s main focus was the Trump rally.

“i think we need to be somewhat on alert … for violence in D.C,” our managing editor alerted everyone on Slack.

As footage showed people breaching the Capitol’s security perimeters — forcing the building into a lockdown and the country’s highest-ranking politicians to take cover — the entire newsroom launched into a full-scale breaking news operation, a fairly rare occurrence for our small staff. We essentially split into three teams: fact-checkers who would sort fact from fiction in real time, editors who would oversee that reporting, and web producers who would disseminate findings via a live feed, the website, newsletters and social media. 

"newsroom is pivoting to this story hard," the manager editor said around 2 p.m.

Quickly, baseless rumors surfaced online claiming that anti-fascist activists, or antifa, were actually instigating the deadly violence — not Trump supporters. “There is absolutely no evidence for this,” Snopes responded in a tweet that linked to our fact check.

On the flip side, widely circulated posts that alleged gunfire inside the Capitol, that Pence was removed from the Senate chamber, and that Trump said in a video he loved his rioting supporters were all factual. In all, the Snopes newsroom published roughly three dozen fact checks in just hours. 

The work day spanned about 14 hours for most of us, and the company bought everyone dinner. I don’t remember sleeping much after my shift, but I do remember logging on the next morning with an intense caffeine buzz, ready for another go at it.

“I think yesterday unfortunately meant that Batman is not real,” one staff member posted the morning of Jan. 7. “That was his moment to show up.”

 

Jessica Lee is Snopes' Senior Assignments Editor with expertise in investigative storytelling, media literacy advocacy and digital audience engagement.

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