If you're finding it difficult to parse fact from fiction in the never-ending deluge of coronavirus news and information, you aren't alone. Snopes, arguably the internet's premiere fact-checking organization, is struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of bad, misguided, and sometimes just malicious bullshit being spread during this pandemic. As a result, the company announced this week that it will forgo trying to debunk as much misinformation as possible and focus primarily on fact-checking stories that will have the biggest impact.
In a blog post, Snopes leadership admitted that the "magnitude of misinformation" being spread about coronavirus has become "overwhelming" for its small staff. While the company notes that it is experiencing record levels of traffic as people try to sift through misinformation and figure out what is real, it has become next to impossible to keep up with the flood of false information. Even with Snopes' efforts, stories about supposed cures, incorrect statistics and analysis, and conspiracy theories abound — sometimes pushed forward by people in power, including the president of the United States.
Snopes also acknowledged that its fact-checkers are feeling overwhelmed from dealing with the crisis themselves. "We cannot ask our employees to ramp up productivity at the same time the rest of their lives spin out into more disorientating and distressing states. It is our responsibility to put their health and safety first," the company said. Snopes announced that it will allow fact-checkers to take paid time off to care for themselves and their family when needed, provided cash bonuses of $750 to all employees, and scaled back projects to reduce the overall workload.
Snopes' efforts are essential ones to maintain the well being of its workforce, though it will unfortunately lessen the site's ability to fight the tide in a growing sea of misguided information. Those services are needed now more than ever, particularly because prominent voices keep propagating nonsense and gatekeepers are falling short in stopping the spread of bad information. Many companies, including Facebook, have been forced to rely on AI moderators rather than humans, who have been sent home to encourage social distancing and stop the spread of coronavirus. The results have already been shaky, as Facebook's automated systems started marking legitimate news publications as spam. Other sites have been inconsistent in their enforcement methods. Twitter, for instance, has pledged to "protect the public conversation around Covid-19" and taken steps to remove tweets containing falsehoods, including ones tweeted by prominent accounts like David Clarke and John McAfee. However, the company has failed to take down equally misleading tweets posted by Elon Musk.