The Babylon Bee
Type of site
|Founded||March 1, 2016|
|Headquarters||Jupiter, Florida, U.S.|
The Babylon Bee is a conservative Christian news satire website that publishes satirical articles on topics including religion, politics, current events, and public figures. It has been referred to in the media as a Christian, evangelical, or conservative version of The Onion.
The Babylon Bee was created by Adam Ford and was launched on March 1, 2016. The Babylon Bee is headquartered in Jupiter, Florida and employs around 24 people across the United States. According to Seth Dillon, the current owner of The Babylon Bee, Ford launched the website "because there was this massive void on the right for comedy that wasn't cheesy". Shortly after launching, The Babylon Bee made headlines for mocking the "health and wealth" theology of Jan Crouch, founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network, on the day of her death.
In 2017, Hurricane Harvey battered Houston, Texas, causing widespread flooding. In that context, The Babylon Bee satirically criticized televangelist Joel Osteen with a headline that read: "Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of 'Your Best Life Now'". The article went viral, prompting a fact check from Snopes.
In late 2018, Ford sold the website to Seth Dillon, whom Ford described as "a successful businessman who uses his resources for Kingdom purposes". In a public announcement published on his personal website, Ford cited several reasons for the sale, including his discomfort with the power wielded by social media companies like Facebook over creators and their perceived anti-conservative and anti-Christian bias. He wrote that "Facebook has the power to kill publishers, and they do, not only based on publishing techniques, but based on worldview. Just think about that". At the time of the website's sale, Kyle Mann, who had been head writer since September 2016, became editor-in-chief. Also at the time of the sale, The Babylon Bee received 3 million page views per month. Dillon later described the sale as "an exciting opportunity to do something different and more impactful and fun, and would bring me full circle to that whole satire and writing thing I wanted to do." As of 2021, Ford still has a financial stake in The Babylon Bee.
In October 2020, The Babylon Bee said that they receive about 8 million visitors a month. In January 2021, The Washington Times said that The Babylon Bee receives more than 20 million page views per month, has more than 20,000 paid subscribers, and has a Twitter account with more than 856,000 followers.
The Babylon Bee takes on the tone and format of a traditional news publication. The site began by lampooning a wide range of topics including progressives, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, and Donald Trump. The purpose of the site, according to its founder Adam Ford in 2016, was not just to evoke laughter, but to give cause for self-reflection. "It's important to look at what we're doing, to 'examine ourselves.' Satire acts like an overhead projector, taking something that people usually ignore and projecting it up on the wall for everyone to see. It forces us to look at things we wouldn't normally look at and makes us ask if we're okay with them". E.J. Dickson wrote in Rolling Stone in 2020 that The Babylon Bee "initially started out as something of an equal opportunity offender" in the topics it satirized. In an April 2016 Washington Post profile of the site and its founder, Bob Smietana observed that "The Bee excels at poking fun at the small idiosyncrasies of believers, especially evangelical Protestants". Susan E. Isaacs publishing in Christianity Today wrote in May 2018 that the site "lampoon[ed] the faithful across denominations, political affiliations, and age groups". Emma Green in The Atlantic noted of The Babylon Bee's content in October 2021, "although political humor drives much of The Bee's web traffic, the publication's signature hits focus on what the writers see as shallowness in the evangelical world".
In the years leading up to 2020, the site grew less critical of Trump and more critical of the left and liberalism, though they continued to satirize topics across both parties. Emma Goldberg of The New York Times said in 2020 that although Trump was still not off-limits as a target for the Bee, "their early coverage of Trump, back in 2016, was much more vitriolic than today's. They called him a psychopath, or a megalomaniac. Now they're more bemused by him and the ghoulish ways he's described on the left". In another 2020 New York Times article, Emma Goldberg wrote that the unifying goal of the site was "poking fun at the left", and that "their most popular articles are often those making jokes at the expense of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden". She wrote that its success was due to finding ways to punch up by "ridiculing every source of authority outside the White House." In the same article, The Babylon Bee's editor-in-chief Kyle Mann summarized how he believed readers of The Babylon Bee considered the site: "this comedy makes fun of everybody, but it's a little harder on the left, and when it makes fun of the right it's not hateful." Bach wrote in Slate in June 2021 that the site frequently makes jokes that target marginalized groups, with articles that are "often 'ironically' misogynistic" and "frequently antagonistic toward the LGBTQIA+ community". In an October 2021 interview with The Atlantic, Mann described the site's view of satire and its mission as "mock[ing] people who hold cultural power and ... communicat[ing] truth to a culture that many times does not believe in an objective, universal truth any longer."
Jennifer Graham of Deseret News attributed the success of The Babylon Bee to them benefiting "from the increasing polarization in America, with Republicans and Democrats clustering in information silos that reflect and affirm their beliefs."
Mistaken for factual reporting
As the readership of The Babylon Bee increased from 2016 to 2020, there were independent, ongoing discussions within journalistic circles on how to handle the rise of fake news and its influence on the public. The Babylon Bee was brought into this wider conversation when several of their articles were shared on social media or reported upon, ostensibly as factual, including by President Donald Trump and The Guardian.
The Conversation published research by academics at the Ohio State University in August 2019 that found that people regularly mistook satirical reports from The Babylon Bee, The Colbert Report, The Onion, and others for genuine news. They found that "stories published by The Bee were among the most shared factually inaccurate content in almost every survey we conducted". They also found that both Republicans and Democrats mistook articles from The Babylon Bee as news, but Republicans were more likely to do so. The Babylon Bee's editor-in-chief, Kyle Mann, criticized the research in a conversation with ReasonTV, describing it as "methodologically flawed" and saying The Conversation reworded the headlines and took them out of context when asking survey respondents if they thought they were real. Reason's John Osterhoudt said that the headlines had been "stripped of both context and comedy", giving as an example The Babylon Bee headline "CNN: 'God Allowed the Mueller Report to Test Our Shakeable Faith in Collusion'" that was rephrased to participants as "CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper said his belief that Trump colluded with Russia is unshakable; it will not change regardless of statements or evidence to the contrary".
Media outlets' responses to incidents in which The Babylon Bee's content was mistaken for factual reporting have varied. Some have described The Babylon Bee and its content as obviously satirical, whereas others have suggested the site misleads its readers, either intentionally or inadvertently.
In October 2020, a satirical news story by The Babylon Bee claiming that Twitter had been shut down to protect Joe Biden from negative coverage was retweeted by then-U.S. President Donald Trump, who, according to some journalists, seemed to not realize the article was parody and condemned the fabricated incident described in the story as a case of leftist censorship. This event prompted Kevin Roose writing in The New York Times to question whether The Babylon Bee "traffic[s] in misinformation under the guise of comedy", concluding that "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". When asked about the retweet by Fox News' Media Angle, Dillon said "He's just doing what he does. We know from people close to him that he's a fan of the Bee and enjoys our satire."
Parker J. Bach wrote in Slate that "the site is adept at writing ironically ambiguous material that lets audiences from different sections of the right reinforce their own beliefs... even if The Babylon Bee's satire itself should not be considered misinformation, its satire draws on and reinforces actual misinformation and conspiracy" also describing their material as "riffs on riffs, building referential jokes atop the already referential right-wing commentary about the untrustworthiness of the news". James Varney wrote in The Washington Times that "Surprisingly often, a short piece from The Bee seems to become real news. A jesting report in The Bee will be fact-checked and censored, usually briefly, by social media platforms" and that "as a consequence, the satirical website has been fondly christened by its conservative blogging brethren as 'the paper of record.'"
In March 2018, The Babylon Bee published an article quipping that CNN was using an industrial-sized washing machine to "spin" the news. Snopes fact-checked the article, rating it "false". Facebook then cited this fact-check in a warning message to The Babylon Bee, threatening to limit their content distribution and monetization. Ford tweeted a screenshot of the warning message to his followers, drawing public attention to the matter. Facebook quickly apologized, with the statement 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 since been corrected and won't count against the domain in any way". Snopes later issued a fact-check of its previous fact-check, saying that "it should have been obvious that the Babylon Bee piece was just a spoof."
In July 2019, The Babylon Bee published an article referencing a real-world incident, 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". They also this time suggested that the article was deliberately deceptive, rather than genuinely satirical. Ford responded on Twitter, highlighting what he deemed to be problematic wording in the fact-check. The Babylon Bee also released a statement, calling the fact-check a "smear" that was "both dishonest and disconcerting". The statement concluded by saying a law firm had been retained to represent The Babylon Bee because "Snopes appears to be actively engaged in an effort to discredit and deplatform us". After receiving some backlash and a formal demand letter from The Babylon Bee's attorney, Snopes made revisions to the wording of the fact check and added an explanatory editor's note.
The Babylon Bee's chief executive, Seth Dillon, appeared on Fox News in August 2019 to discuss the incident. He said The Babylon Bee must take the matter seriously "because social networks, which we depend on for our traffic, have relied upon fact-checking sources in the past to determine what's fake news and what isn't. In cases where [Snopes] is calling us fake news and lumping us in with them rather than saying this is satire, that could actually damage us. It could put our business in jeopardy".
Snopes' co-founder David Mikkelson acknowledged to The New York Times that their fact-check was poorly written, but denied trying to discredit The Babylon Bee. In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Mikkelson stated, "the question you should be asking is not: 'why is Snopes addressing material from a particular site so often?' But, 'what is it about that site that makes its content trigger the fact-check threshold?'"
In August 2019, Snopes announced a new rating for satire sites called "labeled satire". Articles from The Babylon Bee that were previously rated "false" were updated with the new rating. Snopes explains the label: "This rating indicates that a claim is derived from content described by its creator and/or the wider audience as satire. Not all content described by its creator or audience as 'satire' necessarily constitutes satire, and this rating does not make a distinction between 'real' satire and content that may not be effectively recognized or understood as satire despite being labeled as such". Mann objected to this label in an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal, writing that the label "is meant to suggest that we are somehow making jokes in bad faith".
The New York Times
In June 2021, Dillon threatened legal action against The New York Times, alleging that they had defamed the site in a March 2021 article by referring to The Babylon Bee as a "far-right misinformation site". The Times first amended the article, then removed the descriptor and published a clarification about the labeling dispute between Snopes and The Babylon Bee.
Social media and other platforms
On several occasions, social media and other platforms have removed content by The Babylon Bee or flagged or suspended its accounts, though some of these actions were later described by the platforms as errors and reversed. In July 2019, Facebook threatened to limit The Babylon Bee's content distribution and monetization after Snopes classified an article about CNN as "false". Following some controversy, Facebook identified the action as a mistake and reversed it. In October 2020, the Babylon Bee made a Facebook post linking to a story about the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court nomination with the headline "Senator Hirono Demands ACB Be Weighed Against A Duck To See If She Is A Witch" (a reference to the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Facebook removed the post, citing their policies against incitement to violence. In June 2021, Dillon criticized Facebook for announcing that they would moderate satire that "punches down", saying in response that "we're not punching down. We're punching back." In August 2020, Twitter briefly suspended The Babylon Bee's account after it was mistakenly caught in a spam filter. In June 2021, Mailchimp suspended The Babylon Bee's account in what the company later said was an error. In response, Dillon said that they would no longer use Mailchimp's services. In August 2021, Dillon accused Facebook of throttling the reach of The Babylon Bee after a drop in referral traffic from Facebook.
The Babylon Bee's CEO has accused news media, fact-checking outlets, and social media websites of targeting The Babylon Bee in a perceived movement to deplatform conservative or Christian viewpoints, which he has also described as "cancel culture". In October 2020, Senator Mike Lee referenced The Babylon Bee as a target of what he viewed to be imbalance in social media moderation, which he said was overly directed at right-leaning content, groups, and individuals. The Babylon Bee and Not the Bee filed an amicus brief in support of Florida's Senate Bill 7072 (also known as the Stop Social Media Censorship Act), which seeks to "protect users by prohibiting social media sites from censoring or deplatforming people or organizations they disagree with". In the brief, both organizations said they had experienced censorship from large social media platforms.
The Babylon Bee published a book satirizing the Christian self-help industry: How to Be a Perfect Christian: Your Comprehensive Guide to Flawless Spiritual Living. Founder Adam Ford retained ownership of the book when he left The Babylon Bee.
In November 2020, The Babylon Bee released a self-published collection of their greatest hits: The Sacred Texts of The Babylon Bee, Volume 1.
In 2021, Mann and Joel Berry, The Babylon Bee's managing editor, published The Babylon Bee Guide to Wokeness. In the first week after publication, it reached number 20 on Amazon's top seller list, number 22 on USA Today's top seller list, and number two on Publishers Weekly's bestsellers list.. It reached number two among top selling Christian books on NPD Bookscan (formerly Nielsen Bookscan).
Not the Bee
Not the Bee, distinguished from The Babylon Bee, but launched on September 1, 2020 by the same creators (Dan Dillon, Seth Dillon, and Adam Ford), is a non-satirical site that reports on news stories and commentary and hosts a social media platform for subscribers. Seth Dillon has described it as "a humor-based entertainment site that offers commentary on stories that are so outrageous they should be satire, but somehow aren't".
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Snopes, which didn't respond to Reason's interview request, has said that a significant percentage of social media users mistake satire for real news. But Mann says that when making this claim, Snopes cited a methodologically flawed study in which participants were showed Babylon Bee headlines reworded and taken out of context.
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