Hoaxes & Rumors

Fact Check Grudge Match: Snopes vs Slate

Fact Check Grudge Match: Snopes vs Slate

When fact-check website Snopes posted a rebuttal to an article published by Slate author Geoffrey Sant, the writer fired back, accusing the website of being “lazy.”

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“Hit To Kill”

In a September 2015 Slate article entitled Driven to Kill: Why Drivers in China intentionally kill the pedestrians they hit,” Geoffrey Sant cites several incidents in China in which drivers were caught on tape repeatedly driving over pedestrians. Described as “hit-to-kill” cases, Sant explains that drivers usually suffer a less severe punishment if they kill a pedestrian rather that simply injuring them. “These drivers are willing to kill not only because it is cheaper, but also because they expect to escape murder charges,” Sant writes.

The writer first became aware of the “hit-to-kill” phenomenon while working in Taiwan in the 1990’s. It was at that time he discovered that laws in Taiwan and China actually favored the killing of pedestrian over crippling them. Sant reports that severely injuring a pedestrian would mean a lifetime of financial responsibility for the driver, while killing them would only require a one-time burial fee.

Despite recent laws which are designed to halt the hit-to-kill practice, Sant reveals that the practice continues because “it can be hard to prove intent and causation – at least to the satisfaction of China’s courts.”

Snopes Weighs In

In its analysis of the piece, Snopes presents a skeptical rebuttal and labels the article “unproven.” Suggesting that internet searches prior to September 2015 revealed “almost nothing” on the phenomenon, Snopes also accused Sant of using “arbitrary” sources to prove his point. Snopes admitted, however, that fact checking via Chinese language sites proved “difficult to independently check.”

Sant’s inclusion of six hit-to-kill cases were described by Snopes as “misrepresented by him or unsupported by even an attempt at citation.”

Snopes leans heavily on its assertion that Sant’s sources are weak, concluding, “The scant and spotty evidence he included did not in any way support his claim that the incidents depicted heartless drivers murdering pedestrians solely for their own benefit…”

Sant Responds

When Snopes published and tweeted their take on the piece, Sant fired off a series of tweets to challenge the popular debunkers.

The writer also posted a series of comments on the Snopes tweet.

In his comments, Sant asked Snopes to either change its article or publish his comments. As of this writing there has been no public response from the website.

Sant has provided additional sources on Twitter, including:


While Snopes accused Sant of being presumptive and arbitrary, the same could be said of their rebuttal, which largely dismissed the author’s sources with little explanation. Sant did provide a number of sources, and later tweeted out even more to corroborate his claims.

One potential omission in Sant’s piece is the lack of clarification regarding how extensive the problem is. It may be easy for some readers to conclude that the phenomenon is a common occurrence, although it’s not clear if that was the writer’s intent.

Sant’s inclusion of several examples indicates that the problem is real, although not necessarily widespread.

Bottom Line

Slate published a piece by Geoffrey Sant in which he described a “hit-to-kill” phenomenon in Taiwan and China where drivers repeatedly drive over pedestrians in order to kill them. This shocking practice is done because it typically yields a less severe punishment than if the victim were left permanently disabled. Fact-check website Snopes posted a rebuttal, suggesting the writer was attempting to prove a non-existent phenomenon by the use of “arbitrary” sources. Sant fired back on social media, referring to Snopes as “lazy” and offered additional sources to bolster his report.

It appears that Sant does describe a real phenomenon, although how widespread it is remains unclear.

As fact checkers ourselves, we would probably dig a little deeper before challenging a piece on Chinese culture by an international attorney, translator, and board member of the New York Chinese Cultural Center.

Who do you believe?

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  • John Baker

    I’m with Snopes. Sant’s claims may indeed be at least partly true, but he hasn’t made a convincing case.

  • Bill Ellson

    “One potential omission in Sant’s piece is the lack of clarification regarding how extensive the problem is. It may be easy for some readers to conclude that the phenomenon is a common occurrence, although it’s not clear if that was the writer’s intent.”

    Sant’s 2nd paragraph:
    “And yet not only is it true, it’s fairly common; security cameras have regularly captured drivers driving back and forth on top of victims to make sure that they are dead.”

    Mr Sant’s intention is perfectly clear. If Mr Sant wants to make such a sensational claim then it is up to him to prove it, not up to Snopes to disprove it. If, as Mr Sant unequivocally claims, such killings were ‘fairly common’ then English language publications in both PRC and Taiwan would have noticed.

    “As fact checkers ourselves, we would probably dig a little deeper before challenging a piece on Chinese culture by an international attorney, translator, and board member of the New York Chinese Cultural Center.”

    Really? Any competent fact checker knows that people of all professions, academic abilities and offices held get things wrong (for a very wide variety of reasons). Lets face it, you did not think to re-read Sant’s original post before publishing if you had then you might have noticed what Sant’s intent was.

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