When I hear a claim that doesn’t sound quite right to me, I usually check in at Snopes to get the facts. They usually do a good job of debunking fake news, and they provide lots of references to back them up.
However, I think they did a huge disservice to readers recently with their fact check on a viral story about Las Vegas.
The story going around was that Las Vegas is now completely powered by renewable energy. The story contains a kernel of truth, but then that kernel got distorted into something that went viral but was clearly untrue.
Why does it matter? Because when people start to believe energy myths, they start to have unrealistic expectations. That leads to bad energy policies. After all, if the glittering lights of Las Vegas can run entirely on renewable energy, there is no reason we can’t run the entire country on renewable energy. While it’s fine to have that as a target, if we start to base energy policies on that expectation, we are likely to create energy shortages.
The kernel of truth was a story about the city government of Las Vegas. The story first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal was City of Las Vegas reaches clean energy goal. In that story, they explain that the city government in Las Vegas has been moving toward running totally on renewable energy. Here is the key piece of information: “Through a combination of direct generation and credits, the city is powering more than 140 facilities, along with streetlights, with renewable sources.”
So the city government is now running its ~140 facilities on renewable power. Then, whether through careless reporting, incompetence, or intentionally misleading readers with click bait, that story morphed from “City of Las Vegas” to “city of Las Vegas” to simply “Las Vegas is running on renewable energy.” To emphasize that point, many stories ran a picture of the Las Vegas Strip with the accompanying headline.
One of the worst offenders was Popular Mechanics, which had the following up for four days before modifying the title and issuing a “clarification:”
Not only are the headline and subtitle of this story completely false, but the Las Vegas Strip isn’t within the City of Las Vegas. Thus, nothing you see in that picture was actually covered by the announcement by the City of Las Vegas.
Nevertheless, that headline was repeated verbatim in the mainstream media, and the story went viral. One version of the story I saw had 1.2 million views. As one might expect, Snopes fact-checked it. And they got it wrong.
The claim they fact-checked (at this link) was “The city of Las Vegas is now powered completely by renewable energy.”
Although within the fact-check they clarified that it is only the “municipal buildings and facilities” of the “city of Las Vegas”, they rated the claim “Mostly True.” In fact, as read and passed around it is “Mostly False” or “Barely True.” Instead of pointing out that many stories actually got it completely wrong, they put the blame on readers who just glanced at headlines and “may have come away with the mistaken impression that the glittering array of brilliantly-lit hotel/casinos that populate the famous Las Vegas Strip are now all impressively powered entirely by renewable energy sources.”
I am sorry, that just isn’t acceptable. Readers came away with that impression because media outlets blatantly made that claim with accompanying pictures of the Las Vegas Strip. Had Snopes fact-checked “The City of Las Vegas…” they would have been on firmer ground, but readers would still need some clarification of what “City” means in this instance. But that wasn’t the claim that went viral. It was “city of Las Vegas” or simply “Las Vegas.”
That claim rates “MOSTLY FALSE”, and Snopes blew it on this one.
Link to Original Article: Fact-Checking Snopes on Las Vegas and Renewable Energy