Or Keeping Facts In Check?
My Snopes Experience
The 2016 election was horrible. In its aftermath, the cries about policing “fake news” continue. The name that continues to be raised, in terms of a potential solution, is Snopes. I’ve run into it over time, but never had personal interaction with the site or its personnel. Now I have. Recently, a Snopes researcher contacted me to fact check, because I am an authority on killings by police of civilians. In my experience, the process was remarkably unprofessional, and if this is the standard, then Snopes as arbiter is a concept that fills me with dread.
The fact to be checked was the claim that black police officers killed more black people than white police officers. I was first contacted by a Snopes researcher, who wrote about something, on 28 December 2016, and I complained that her coverage was biased and did not reflect my extensive, written response. The researcher made changes. After reviewing the changes, I found more problems, and wrote the researcher, but no further changes were made. I then found that there were no mechanisms on Snopes to submit complaints or requests for review by editors.
What follows is adapted from a comment I sent to Snopes through its comment form.
I would note here my surprise that a site that purports to be an arbiter of truth does not have an ombudsman, nor does it have a method for readers to dispute findings, nor does it have an email address to which readers might address disputes, nor does it list on its masthead contact information for the names of the responsible editors. It simply gives one central contact form, which is manned by an auto-responder.
In the Fact Check -> Politics Race -> Police Race story from 28 December by Bethania Palma, I was quoted:
“Part of the problem, [Selby] said, is that in the absence of reliable government data, researchers often rely on media reports, but those reports are more likely to mention the ethnicity of an officer who kills if he or she is white[.]”
Actually, that is precisely what I did not say. I said (in writing and then on the phone) that media reports are more likely to mention the ethnicity of the officer if the DECEDENT IS BLACK. I have now provided this to the researcher twice, yet the copy reads the way it reads.
Here, once again, is my response:
In our analysis of 679 media reports on the killings of unarmed civilians, in 2015, the American news media was more than three times more likely to name the race of the officer involved in a police killing of an unarmed person if the decedent was black, than if the decedent was White or Hispanic.
I also must say that I object to two aspects of the “fact check” that are included that have literally nothing to do with the fact ostensibly being checked.
First, the likelihood of black people killed in the United States by police as compared to the likelihood of white people being killed by police is not at question here. Its inclusion is confusing. Second, the inclusion of statistics from USAToday’s study of black people killed by car accidents is wholly unrelated, despite what I consider to be a tortured segue (‘Illustrating the controversial nature of the topic’, as if anyone on earth needed a reminder that race and policing is controversial – this is was included entirely as incendiary statistical fodder to froth up anti-police sentiment).
This article is ostensibly a fact check.
The fact that was to be checked was the the claim that black police officers kill more black people than white officers. Neither of the last two statistics offer any clarity into or explanation of that, whereas my work, and that of Lott and Moody, specifically do.
Can’t wait for the update.