Snopes, NC Scooper talk fake news at Grass Valley event | TheUnion.com
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Snopes, NC Scooper talk fake news at Grass Valley event

Snopes managing editor Brooke Binkowski listens to the publisher of the Nevada County Scooper who goes by the name Randall Finkelstein. Finkelstein appeared during Tuesday night's "fake news" forum in the form of a digitized fish.
Elias Funez/efunez@theunion.com |

The managing editor of snopes.com, which calls itself the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends and misinformation, tried to distill the definition of “fake news” … with a fish.

Brooke Binkowski, with Snopes, sat next to a monitor that displayed the image of a swimming fish in the Multipurpose Center on the campus of Sierra College in Grass Valley. The fish represented the publisher of the Nevada County Scooper, who calls himself Randall Finkelstein.

Together, woman and fish, they formed a Tuesday night panel on fake news.



“I’m utterly entranced by this fish,” Binkowski said at one point.

Finkelstein, who remains anonymous and didn’t appear in person, had his modulated voice come through speakers for the audience to hear. He runs a satirical website. Binkowski works for a site that, in turn, verifies or refutes news stories.




The seemingly mismatched pair spent about 90 minutes delving into the definition of fake news, how to spot it and what differentiates it from satire.

According to Binkowski, fake news has existed for years, though in tamer forms than what currently appears online. She saw the change around April and May 2016, when funny fake news turned mean.

“It was clearly calculated to make people angry at one another,” Binkowski said.

Binkowski said fake news feeds on the lowest common denominator — tribal or racial fears. That’s one way to recognize it. If it makes the reader feel rage or fear, it’s likely fake news.

“Check your sources, because it’s playing to your emotions,” Binkowski said.

Satire, however, is different from fake news. Binkowski called satire an effective method of pointing out issues that make society ill.

Additionally, satire is obvious. Fake news intends to deceive, Binkowski said.

Finkelstein said satire has grown more absurd in modern times. He called it a way to criticize power structures, and argued that his anonymity gives him the liberty to say things he otherwise couldn’t say.

“That’s largely what our role is — being the court jester,” Finkelstein said.

Reinette Senum, a Nevada City councilwoman and former target of the Scooper, attended about half of Tuesday’s discussion before leaving. Contacted Wednesday, Senum said she wanted someone to state that the Scooper writes both satire and fake news. Senum argued that despite Binkowski’s claim that the Scooper is satire, her own website has it on a list titled “Snopes’ Field Guide to Fake News Sites and Hoax Purveyors.”

The Scooper posted an article last summer about Senum after she made a controversial Facebook post in the wake of the Dallas shooting that killed five police officers.

“They have obviously been given directives to go out there and kill,” Senum wrote at the time. “It’s insane and it’s meant to create mayhem.”

The Scooper then posted an article titled “City Councilwoman: The Dallas Police Got What They Deserved.”

Senum said her post was meant to start a conversation. The Scooper’s article led to threats against her.

“There was nothing funny or humorous about it,” Senum said. “This is not satire.”

Talking through the speaker system Tuesday, Finkelstein said he and his writers want to create an “a-ha” moment in their readers.

“Our job is kind of to disrupt things that get people outside their bubble,” he said.

Asked for her final thoughts, Binkowski encouraged people to read news publications with subscription models and click online ads.

“Hug a journalist today,” she said.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.


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