The CEO of The Babylon Bee says he is considering taking legal action against The New York Times for claiming the Christian satirical news site publishes “misinformation.”
In an email to site subscribers, Seth Dillon wrote, “The New York Times points to The Babylon Bee as an example of a ‘far-right misinformation site’ that ‘sometimes trafficked in misinformation under the guise of satire.’ They said we dishonestly ‘claim’ to be satire to protect our presence on the platform. This is false and defamatory.”
He went on to note that there were no other sites mentioned in the article except his.
“Notably, the words ‘trafficked in misinformation’ are hyperlinked, presumably to a supportive source,” Dillon continued. “But the link they point to is another NY Times piece that actually refutes the claim that we traffic in misinformation by describing us as a legitimate satire site.
“The reason they don’t link to a supportive source is because they don’t have one,” he added. “So what can be done about this? Well, we’re talking with our lawyers again about the best path forward. Damaging defamation is serious.”
The Times published a story on Friday headlined, “For Political Cartoonists, the Irony Was That Facebook Didn’t Recognize Irony.” Written by technology reporter Mike Isaac, the piece sought to highlight the difficulty that the social media behemoth’s editors sometimes had in distinguishing between fake news and legitimate satire.
The article’s focus was left-wing cartoonist Matt Bors, who took sharp jabs at former President Donald Trump and his supporters in ways that sometimes led Facebook to throttle his posts. The crackdowns on Bors’ content stemmed from the platform’s commitment to censor “misinformation” and calls for violence, but, Isaac wrote, at times, Facebook “had trouble identifying the slipperiest and subtlest of political content: satire.”
Regarding Bors’ work, “Facebook has sometimes misunderstood the intent of political cartoons, leading to takedowns,” Isaac wrote. “The company has acknowledged that some of the cartoons it expunged — including those from Mr. Bors — were removed by mistake and later reinstated them.”
As for the Bee, the site has also been wrongly targeted for censorship. In 2018, for instance, Snopes ‘fact-checked’ an article titled, “NN Purchases Industrial-Size Washing Machine To Spin News Before Publication.” Because of the fact-check, Facebook reduced the post’s reach, but later reinstated it after realizing its mistake.
“There’s a difference between false news and satire,” said Facebook spokeswoman Lauren Svensson in a statement to PJ Media at the time. “This was a mistake and should not have been rated false in our system. It’s since been corrected and won’t count against the domain in any way.”
Instead of using that as an example, however, Isaac made the claim that the Bee was an outlet for fake news:
But satire kept popping up as a blind spot. In 2019 and 2020, Facebook often dealt with far-right misinformation sites that used “satire” claims to protect their presence on the platform, Mr. Brooking said. For example, The Babylon Bee, a right-leaning site, frequently trafficked in misinformation under the guise of satire.
Isaac appears to suggest that Bors the cartoonist is often simply misunderstood, while the Bee purposefully attempts to misinform readers.
Isaac’s story follows an earlier Times piece published in October in which writer Kevin Roose interviewed fellow Times reporter Emma Goldberg, who had recently profiled The Babylon Bee, claiming the site has a “habit of skirting the line between misinformation and satire, and how it capitalizes on its audience’s confusion.”
During the interview, Roose asked Goldberg if the Bee uses satire as a means “to traffic in misinformation under the guise of comedy.”
Goldberg did not directly say she believed it was “a deliberate strategy,” but argued anyway that “their pieces can sometimes be easily mistaken for real news.”
“The Babylon Bee is not a covert disinformation operation disguised as a right-wing satire site, and is in fact trying to do comedy, but may inadvertently be spreading bad information when people take their stories too seriously,” she eventually concluded.
Facebook demonetized the Bee in October after claiming that an article that quoted from the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was an incitement to violence.
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