Fact-Checking Snopes

Sat, Sep 4, 2021 3-minute read

I want to like Snopes but I'm not convinced that they weigh evidence correctly. As a personal anecdote, I found what I thought was a problem with their debunking of the myth that Marilyn Monroe had 6 toes. To be clear, I don't believe that she did. Or even care. But at the time, one of the article's supporting "facts" was that if she'd had a toe removed, she'd have to learn to walk again because it would throw off her balance and ruin her gait. (Note: the article no longer includes this fact. It did at one time, though.)

However, my wife's a podiatrist. Part of her job is amputating parts of feet when they're damaged or infected beyond repair. I asked her what it's like for an otherwise healthy adult to recover from a pinky toe amputation, and she said it's a matter of waiting for the wound site to heal and then they continue with life as normal. Even a big toe amputation isn't all that disruptive. A vestigial 6th toe hanging off to the side? You'd never notice it was gone except that shoes would fit better.

I emailed Snopes and said that while I agreed with their conclusion, this particular supporting fact was invalid as explained by an expert in the field. They replied, in essence, that I was an idiot for believing she had 6 toes, and they left the article as-is.

That's not at all what I thought. I just didn't like that they were using incorrect facts to support their argument, and especially that they reacted poorly to a well-intended correction.

I've been skeptical of Snopes's fact checking since then. Although I think they're likely right most of the time, that left a bad taste in my mouth. Are other people sending them corrections about their own fields of expertise and having them rejected? I'd never know.

I greatly appreciate fact checkers and the organizations that rely on them. For instance, I might not agree with the conclusion of an article in the New York Times, but because I trust that their reporting is factually correct, I can rely on those bits of information to form my own opinions. I think Snopes means well and tries hard to do good work for a largely thankless job, and that they mostly succeed at it. However, as with Wikipedia, Snopes is a solid starting point for doing your own investigation and shouldn't be considered authoritative. Use critical thinking skills and follow up on their sources when the subject of an article is personally important to you.