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  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Aug 2008
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    Era of hoaxes, fake news keeps Snopes writers busy

    Era of hoaxes, fake news keeps Snopes writers busy

    Vinny Green works on an update to from his office in Pacific Beach. He and four others at Proper Media own 50 percent of the popular fact-checking site. (Gary Warth)

    Gary Warth Contact Reporter

    Did that really happen?

    Brooke Binkowski is asked a variation of that question about 1,500 times each day through e-mails to, the popular fact-checking website she edits.

    Richard Hatch may have died, the star of Battlestar Galactica, but it’s looking a little iffy,” Binkowski, 39, said while texting Snopes writers from a Pacific Beach office overlooking the surf. “It was reported by one source. And lead levels in a Bronx school are 16 times higher than in Flint, Michigan.”

    Both stories turned out to be true. A recent story about about President Donald Trump enacting a 90-day ban on childhood vaccinations, however, was false. Another story about Trump reversing Obama’s Thanksgiving turkey pardons.and ordering the birds executed was easily exposed as satire.

    The emails come in 24/7, and as managing editor, Binkowski assigns a team of four staff reporters and two contract writers to look into the ones that are the subject of most inquiries.

    Some are easily solved and traced to hoax or humor sites.

    Others can take days or even weeks to track down. Then there are the ones that will never go away, like the rumor that Michelle Obama is transgender.

    “That one will not die,” Binkowski said. “That one and, ‘Is Facebook about to start charging?’”

    Snopes managing editor Brooke Binkowski texts writers in other cities chasing down rumors people ask the site about. (Gary Warth)

    Launched in 1995 by California couple David and Barbara Mikkelson as a way to expose urban legends, Snopes has become the go-to site for countless internet users trying to separate truth from fiction in an era of fake news, propaganda and hoaxes. Google Analytics reports it has 21 million visitors a month.

    As the recent presidential election season became more contentious, people began to rely more on the site to sift through political rhetoric and daily claims of scandals.

    Unique visits increased 42 percent since 2015, with a peak of 2.5 million visits the day after the election.

    With that jump came rumors about the site itself. Critics on the right claim the site is funded by liberal mogul George Soros, Binkowski said, while critics on the left say its funded by the conservative Koch brothers.

    Binkowski assured that neither is true.

    The attacks can get ugly and threatening. Binkowski said people who apparently believe the items being debunked have left death threats and posted online personal information about Snopes writers, including the home address of one reporter.

    Increased visits and more political posts aren’t the only things that have changed in the past two years.

    Snopes began a noticeable transition in 2015 when David Mikkelson, who by then had divorced his wife and partner, sold half the site to five owners to a group in San Diego.

    Among the new owners is Vinny Green, 25, a former Marine and MiraCosta College graduate featured recently in Forbes magazine in its “30 Under 30” for media professionals.

    Green was stationed at Camp Pendleton and in his final year as a Marine when he enrolled in MiraCosta with a plan to major in business.

    He hated the subject but fell in love with sociology, which he said gave him a broader understanding of the world. He earned associate degrees in sociology and humanities with a plan to transfer to either UC San Diego or UC Berkeley.

    A chance meeting with someone while volunteering in Mira Costa’s Service Learning Program led him to connect with the owners of, an “all-devouring pop-culture wiki,” as the site describes itself. Green was entranced.

    “I said, ‘Just give me something to do,’” he said. “’Social media. Busy work.’ They looked like they were doing exciting things and I wanted to get some exciting skills.”

    Vinny Green and Brooke Binkowski in the Pacific Beach office of Proper Media. (Gary Warth)

    He began interning in early 2015, and his duties began to grow as he and the others redesigned the site and worked to monetize it.

    “We got kind of good at it,” he said.

    Hoping to apply what they learned to other businesses, the group looked for other sites to buy. They approached Mikkelson at just the right time.

    “I think he saw me as a person who would aggressively pursue the best that Snopes could do in its space, and I think I very much aligned with the vision he had for his site but couldn’t do it on his own,” he said.

    He and four partners bought 50 percent of Snopes and formed Proper Media, LLC, a company that helps high-traffic websites maximize their advertising dollars. The company owns other sites and has many more as clients, and last year moved into a beachfront office with enough room for a pool table, ping pong table, dart boards, a bar and big-screen TV for gamers.

    Green is vice president of Proper Media and director of business development for Snopes, which he began revamping shortly after the purchase.

    “Before we came on board, there was not even a content management system for the site,” he said. “It was an excruciating process for developing content. What you see now is our quick and dirty change-over from 20 years of bad code to something more responsive and functional.”

    More noticeable changes that will make the site more functional are due in about a week, he said.

    In November 2015, Green hired Binkowski, a freelance journalist who had worked for CNN, KPBS. Southern California Public Radio, KNX, CBS Radio, CNN Radio and other outlets.

    Brooke Binkowski, the managing editor of Snopes, in an office at Proper Media that overlooks the beach. (JOHN FRANCIS PETERS / NYT)

    A news veteran with broad experience, Binkowski said the declining number of journalists in the country has left a vacuum being filled by propagandists and opportunists producing spurious versions of “news.”

    “The only way back from fake news is robust and vibrant journalism,” she said. “We are in bad, dire shape in the journalism industry, and it’s directly reflecting what we’re seeing now.”

    Binkowski said the past couple of years have seen a shift on the internet from viral videos about busty women, puppies and aliens to fake news, propaganda and racist stories created by sites seeking a quick buck from a gullible public.

    “These people are such bottom-feeders, they’ll do anything as long as it’s monetizable,” she said. “And they found that hate and fear are extremely lucrative.”

    With an expanded staff, Snopes has been able to do more investigative work. Binkowski spent four weeks researching public records for a story on pit bulls while another reporter was the first on the scene at the Dakota Access Pipeline when the Army Corps of Engineers announced it was denying permits for the project in December.

    Although Green abandoned his plans for a business degree long ago, he still has a good business sense. For all the claims that Snopes has a political bias, his answer is that it would not be good for business to take sides.

    “When we’re covering topics, there’s no side,” he said. “We’re not defending Hilary Clinton We’re not defending Donald Trump. We’re not defending any of these institutions. We’re defending facts.”


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  2. #2
    Senior Member Judy's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    After all these year, it would have been nice if they'd attacked the "hoax" that there's only 11 million illegal aliens in the United States.
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