Why Satire Unhinges the Left

                                                            The Babylon Bee: Fake News You Can Trust.

                                                                                    -The Babylon Bee’s Self-Description

The satirical site, the Babylon Bee (the Bee) has been fact-checked, criticized, and/or censored by Facebook, Twitter, Mailchimp, Snopes, Politifact, the New York Times and Slate on numerous occasions. This is literally incomprehensible since the Bee explicitly represents itself as a satirical “fake news” site.  One cannot “fact-check” a joke.   Why then do so many “liberal” sites insist on fact-checking explicit non-factual satire?

One might think the answer is simple:  Liberals, like everyone else, just don’t like to be made the butt of humor.  However, this cannot be the whole story.  First, conservatives may not like it either, but do not tend to react in the same unhinged way to humor. 

Second, liberals do not merely dislike satire.  As the liberal reaction shows, they are so distressed that they cannot even recognize satire as satire. The liberal overreaction is not therefore just that they, like everybody else, do not like being criticized.  There is something deeper, and quite illuminating, going on here.

In March 2018, the Bee published an article suggesting that CNN uses an industrial-sized washing machine to "spin" the news.  Snopes fact-checked the article and rated it “false.”  Facebook cited the Snopes’ fact-check in a warning message to the Bee and threatened to limit their content distribution and monetization.  Adam Ford, who created the Bee, tweeted a screenshot of Facebook’s warning message to his followers, exposing Facebook’s overreaction.  Facebook apologized and admitted that "there's a difference between false news and satire. This was a mistake and should not have been rated false in our system. It's... won't count against the domain in any way".  Snopes also admitted that "it should have been obvious that the Bee piece was just a spoof."

In July 2019, The Bee published an article referring to an actual event titled "Georgia Lawmaker Claims Chick-Fil-A Employee Told Her to Go Back to Her Country, Later Clarifies He Actually Said 'My Pleasure'," which Snopes rated "false." Snopes also suggested that the article was deliberately deceptive, rather than genuinely satirical. However, the Bee was clearly satirizing those kinds of cases in which someone, like Jussie Smollett, attempts to generate a fake case of discrimination.  The Bee released a statement that the Snopes fact-check was a "smear" that is "both dishonest and disconcerting" and announced that a law firm had been retained to represent the Bee because "Snopes appears to be actively engaged in an effort to discredit and de-platform us." 

Snopes, attempting to save face, responded claiming readers were “confused” by its original article. That is, it's your fault.  

In the same place, Snopes revised the wording of the fact-check and added an editor's note clarifying that they had not meant to imply “deceptive intent” to the Bee article.  

In October 2020, the Bee posted a story on Facebook with a link to a story about the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court titled "Senator Hirono Demands ACB be Weighed Against a Duck to See If She Is a Witch."  This is a reference to a bizarre Medieval-style test to determine if someone is a witch from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail

In response, Facebook removed the post and demonetized the Bee's page, citing their policies against incitement to violence.  In response, the Bee’s Chief Executive Seth Dillon replied, "In what universe does a fictional quote as part of an obvious joke constitute a genuine incitement to violence?”  In fact, the Bee’s story is no more a real incitement to violence that Jonathan Swift’s famous 1729 essay, “A Modest Proposal,” which suggested that selling Irish babies to rich people to be used as food was a real incitement to violence.

In February 2022, the Bee made a Facebook post referring to former Jeopardy champion Amy Schneider with the headline "Trans Woman Breaks Jeopardy Record, Proving Once and For All That Men Are Smarter Than Women." Facebook removed the post citing their policies against hate speech.  In response, Dillon replied: "Remember how Facebook recently rolled out new rules stipulating that 'real satire' cannot 'punch down'? Are they really willing to say that defending women against a male takeover of their records is 'punching down' and – even worse – 'hate speech'? We're going to find out."  By “punching up,” Facebook means satirizing the powerful members of society.  By “punching down,” Facebook means satirizing the marginalized members of society. 

In fact, what this disagreement shows is how hard it is to decide when one is “punching up” and when one is “punching down.”  For many people will now say that with these recent transgender policies women are the “down” group being pushed out of their own sports and “transgender people” are the “up” group given favorable treatment.  More generally, which group is “up” and which “down” is the sort of thing that will often be “in the eye of the beholder,” which is a very good reason for these social media sites and “fact-checkers” to stop playing God.  In this case, the Bee correctly sees itself as punching up against the behemoth of Big Tech censorship.

In 2017 Politifact rated the Bee’s story that “ISIS lays down arms after Katy Perry’s Plea to, ‘like, just co-exist’” as “pants on fire!”

The claims that the Bee was literally suggesting that CNN buy an industrial-sized washing machine to “spin” the news, or that it was purporting to describe a real conversation at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant or that it was inciting violence in the story about weighing Amy Coney Barrett to see if she is a witch or that it was literally describing an ISIS response to a Katy Perry plea are non-starters, if for no other reason that the Bee explicitly describes itself as “fake news.” 

This is not a difficult issue.  Since it takes minimal intelligence to see that the Bee is being satirical, why do social media and “fact-checkers” have any issues with it?

The reason satire is so effective is that whereas a liberal will simply reject ordinary criticism that they are biased or hypocritical or hateful with some ad hominem dismissal (“That’s just Fox News”), satire forces the un-self-aware person to see themselves as others see them which, in turn forces them to see themselves, sometimes for the first time:

The very silliness of the humor rests in the fact that it calls into question the basic rules of existence.  Self-awareness and comedy go together; so often that what is being satirized in satire is the non-self-awareness, the cluelessness, of the target.

                                         -The Bloomsbury Handbook of Electronic Literature

By “fact-checking” satire, liberal sites and “fact-checkers” have exposed themselves as clueless and un-self-aware.

To be sure, liberals were not always this way and even now not all liberals are so utterly devoid of self-awareness.  However, the inability of so many “liberals” to recognize humor or tolerate satire reveals a dark and dangerous mental state in the movement.

Whereas liberals like to think of themselves as inclusive, tolerant moral heroes fighting to save the planet and end prejudice, good satire forces liberals to glimpse the fact that they are often the very opposite of that -- which explains why the one thing such liberals cannot bear to see without rose-colored glasses is themselves.

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