These last couple days, there’s been a thing going around on Facebook. Maybe you’ve seen it. Some anonymous poster’s friend’s relative is high-up in the Boy Scouts and has the inside scoop on why the BSA allowed gay leaders, knows that the church is going to leave BSA, and knows that it’s going to be over gay issues, not in the interest of gender fairness.
And with that description, you know it’s not true, right? Like, it’s as credible as those email forwards your uncle sends every election cycle (frankly, whether your uncle is liberal or conservative, because what really matters is, your uncle’s crazy, amirite?).
And yet, people are credulously sharing and believing it. So, as a public service, and in the interest of not getting email forwards or seeing these kinds of things on Facebook, a quick review of how to evaluate the plausibility of internet rumors:
(1) It’s not true. Really. You heard it, unsourced, on the internet? There’s not a chance that there’s any credibility to it at all.
(Sorry, got ahead of myself.)
(1) Try Snopes. That takes care of 99% of what your crazy uncle sends.[fn1]
Of course, in the case of a narrow Mormon-related Facebook post, I’d be surprised if Snopes had any information.[fn2]
(2) Google the details. In this case, there are actual details to Google, including this:
They [the BSA] have lost their nonprofit status through litigation over discriminatory practices in several states due to not hiring homosexuals. They were also fighting in the courts in several other states for the same reason and the attorneys feared they will lose. Other lawsuits were being threatened in additional states.
So I Googled boys scouts lose state tax-exempt status. And I learned that, in fact, California threated to take away the BSA’s tax-exempt status. In 2013. It passed the state Senate, but doesn’t appear to have passed the Assembly, much less been signed by the governor.
Other than that, nothing shows up in the search results.
But what, you ask, if it’s just not newsworthy? or the liberal media is burying it? or that journalists are just incompetent? or something? The next step requires a little more access, so I’ve taken care of it for you:
(3) Look at a relevant database. I searched the Litigation and Dockets part of Bloomberg Law. The BSA is involved in a lot of litigation. But once I added tax and/or exempt to the search, only three and ten, respectively, hits came up. And none of those had to do with the BSA losing its tax-exempt status.[fn3]
Now, this isn’t necessarily a definitive answer. It’s certainly possible that the BSA lost tax-exempt status in some state and chose not to challenge the revocation in court. But, while possible, that doesn’t strike me as terribly plausible.
And other parts of the rumor are even less plausible. This, for example:
The attorneys also mentioned that the LDS church was facing the very same issues and were being forced to consolidate much of their businesses in SLC because they were losing or being threatened with losing their nonprofit status in many states due to discrimination.
That’s just stupid. The church doesn’t operate its businesses as tax-exempt. Essentially, tax-exempt entities that earn business income must pay taxes on that business income and, from what I understand, most tax-exempts don’t like to have to deal with the unrelated business income tax. As a result, most tax-exempt organizations—including the church—put their business endeavors in taxable corporate subsidiaries.
That is, the church’s businesses already aren’t tax-exempt; consolidating them in Salt Lake wouldn’t change that. At. All.
Of course, following these steps takes work and some underlying knowledge. Maybe you don’t want to take the time to run the Google searches before you share it. Is there any other way to determine whether or not it’s credible.
Of course. Back when I worked at BYU’s Writing Center, I’d occassionally teach internet research classes. And one of the important skills I taught was how to evaluate the credibility of internet sources.
So take a look at this:
My relative is a big-wig at Boys Scouts. We are talking very high up in the company. Prior to the announcement that the Boys Scouts will now be allowing gay leaders, the big-wigs at Boys Scouts had a meeting with their lawyers. The following occurred. No further information will be given as I do not want my relative to lose his job (this is all very confidential) and I am having someone else post this for me so that it hopefully protects him further. But I 100% trust that he was telling me the truth.
If you count, then, even if the post is based on something that actually in real life happened, at best we’re getting a third-hand account. So at best we’re playing a big game of telephone. So even if we don’t try to run down the details, the most charitable reading of the rumor tells us it’s not an accurate report, and that we shouldn’t share it further.
Look, the church may leave BSA. Or it may not. I really don’t know. All I know is that it takes almost no work to verify that a lot of the details are clearly wrong, and it takes even less to realize that the rumor has serious credibility problems.
[fn1] Of course, introducing your crazy uncle to Snopes is a mixed blessing. I did that for my email-forwarder, but he didn’t really get what it was, so he started to forward me his emails before he sent them out to everybody; I, essentially, served as his Snopes.
[fn2] Did a quick Snopes search, and it doesn’t look like it’s there. No surprise, really.
[fn3] Note that, per the Deseret News, the BSA is (or, at least was) facing a civil rights investigation in New York. But that’s unrelated to its tax-exempt status, so can we quit using “tax-exempt status” as shorthand for legal consequences we don’t understand? Pretty please?