On Friday morning, Trump tweeted a link to a news story from a publication called the Babylon Bee. The story claimed that Twitter, which experienced a site malfunction on Thursday evening, had shut down its network to slow down the spread of anti-Biden news. “Wow, this has never been done in history. This includes his really bad interview last night,” Trump wrote, referring to a Biden town hall on ABC. “Why is Twitter doing this. Bringing more attention to Sleepy Joe & Big T.”
Like most of Trump’s tweets, the tweet was wildly inflammatory and borderline unhinged. But there was a bigger problem with it: the story wasn’t true. The Babylon Bee is a satirical website that actively markets itself as such, and Trump had essentially retweeted the conservative equivalent of The Onion. (As of Friday morning, the tweet is still up.)
What is the Babylon Bee?
The Babylon Bee is a satirical news website with a Christian conservative bent. It was founded in 2016 by Adam Ford, a Detroit dad and former wannabe pastor who initially conceived of it as a publication poking fun at the trappings of evangelical Christianity. (A sample headline, for instance, was “ “Worship Leader Caught in Infinite Loop Between Bridge and Chorus.”)
Ford eventually sold the site to a Christian entrepreneur named Seth Dillon in 2018, citing in part his discomfort with “Facebook and Google [having] a practical duopoly on information.” Indeed, although the Babylon Bee is explicit about its satirical bent, describing itself as “the world’s best satire site, totally inerrant in all its truth claims,” it has had a complicated relationship with the platforms. Facebook has erroneously flagged it as misinformation thanks to the fact-checking website Snopes, and Twitter temporarily suspended and demonetized the Babylon Bee’s account for violating rules about platform manipulation and spam. (Outraged conservatives launched a #FreeTheBee campaign, prompting Twitter to reverse its decision and issue an apology.)
The Babylon Bee initially started out as something of an equal opportunity offender, but over the past four years the Babylon Bee has evolved into a more explicitly anti-left, pro-Trump publication. “The things we see as most absurd, the bad ideas most deserving of ridicule tend to be ideas on the left,” said the site’s chief executive, Seth Dillon. “We’re not trying to be a fair, objective site that equally makes fun of everyone.”
To that end, the Babylon Bee has been something of a social media phenomenon on the right. Its posts regularly go viral on Facebook (despite Facebook occasionally incorrectly flagging it as intentional misinformation rather than satire), and according to the New York Times it attracts about 8 million visitors a month. Its most popular posts poke fun at perceived liberal ideology and political correctness, and many are explicitly misogynistic or transphobic. A June article with the headline “Chick-Fil-A Now Open On Sunday But Only For Black People” attracted widespread criticism when many in the Christian community accused it of perpetuating racist stereotypes in the name of “satire.” (The Babylon Bee refused to issue an apology for the article.)
The site has resonated with right-wing figures like Sen. Ted Cruz and Trump himself, who shared a Babylon Bee story as recently as last month. Judging by his latest tweet, it’s unclear whether he actually knows the Babylon Bee is intended as satire, though the website’s editor-in-chief recently told the New York Times, “He does know it’s satire. We are assured.”