Internet | September 22, 2017 5:00 am

How Snopes Verifies Facts in a Fake News World

Wired sits down with the founder of Snopes to discuss the post-fact world we live in.

Fake News Readers Also Likely to Read Hard News
(Getty Images)

It is no secret that there has been a lot of fake news circulating for years, though many people might think that the 2016 campaign season was when it really came to light. Last fall, after Facebook acknowledged it had become a platform for the spread of fake news, Snopes joined forces with the social media giant. Users could flag potentially false stories and the fact-checking site, Snopes, along with ABC News and Associated Press, could investigate.

This may seem like a new idea, but Snopes has been around since 1994, making it almost as old as the Internet itself.

A new piece by Wired looks into the history of Snopes, and how David Mikkelson, the publisher of the site, started the organization, and how it faces the increasing spread of fake news.

Wired writes that getting to the bottom of things takes a particular type of person, and Mikkelson is that person. He often gets annoyed with people wanting just a “true” or “false” answer, and spends hours writing a detailed analysis of any given claim. He also gets annoyed when people say Snopes is anti-Trump, pointing out that if you look at all the posts about the president, “the vast majority of them are debunking false claims made about him, not affirming negative things said about him or disproving positive things said about him.”

Mikkelson first started Snopes (at the time it was all lowercase) in the early 1990s in a Usenet group called alt.folklore.urban, writes Wired. Barbara Hamel was a secretary and a bookkeeper when she discovered the site and started posting several times a day. She and Mikkelson began flirting, and by the fall of 1994, Hamel moved to California to be with David.

For the next seven years, the site focused on “Weird America” writes Wired. It fact-checked odd ideas or email forwards. But then on September 11, 2001, everything changed. Hamel posted an article debunking the rumor that the 16th-century astrologer Nostradamus had predicted the attacks. She said she wrote and researched that article because she “needed to do something other than just cry and feel helpless.” After that, the site changed. The press took a real interest in them, and David started working full time in 2002.

Later down the road, David and Barbara would go through an acrimonious divorce, writes Wired and therefore, Barbara is usually left out of Snopes history.

Recently, David started a new battle, this time with the new co-owners of the business. This led to the new owners freezing the distribution of the site’s ad revenues, writes Wired. To stay afloat, Mikkelson had to start a GoFundMe. It worked, raising over $690,000 by late August.