Each day I seem to get a handful of emails forwarded to me, the type you’re supposed to read and pass on. Many of them are the “true story” types of forwards where the author of the email is warning the reader about something they experienced or something they heard about. Often times, people read them and actually believe whatever was said, and then click “forward” and pass it along to all of their contacts. The problem with many of these “true” stories is that they’re actually false. So how is someone supposed to know whether what they read in an email is actually true or not? The answer? Snopes.com
What is Snopes?
Snopes is an index of urban legends where users can go to validate or debunk Internet rumors, forwarded emails, or urban legends. Given the number of Internet rumors and forwarded emails out there, Snopes has turned out to be a great resource.
How’d they end up naming the site Snopes?
It’s actually interesting how they ended up naming the site Snopes. Here’s what they say about it:
The Snopes were a family of characters weaved throughout the works of Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer William Faulkner. When David Mikkelson, creator of snopes.com, first came onto the Internet in the late 1980s, he worried even back in those relatively uncrowded days that no one would remember yet another David. He was thus inspired to adopt a nom-de-Net, selecting one that honored those fictional Faulknerian characters, and began signing his newsgroups posts as “snopes.”
Over the years snopes established a fearsome online reputation for his ability to thoroughly research and debunk false claims. When it came time to name our domain, www.snopes.com seemed the obvious choice.
The site is run by a husband and wife team from California who met on the newsgroup alt.folklore.urban, and Snope has been around since 1995.
Where do they get their information?
The owners of Snopes know that they are not the ultimate authority but they do show their work. Each page will list a bibliography so that users can verify the validity of the information themselves.
Snopes uses a ratings system (shown below) so that users can easily see which stories are true, false or undetermined.
How to search…
Just last week I received an email about how several major brands of lipstick contain lead which can cause cancer. The email went off to list the different brands that contained lead and gave a number next to each. The higher the number, the higher the amount of lead that is supposedly in it. The message said to “pass it on to all the women you care for…”
I decided I wanted to find out whether this was true or not so I went to Snopes.com. There they had a whole list of categories to choose from with an icon representing the category next to each. One of the categories was “Toxins” which I figured this particular email would fall under, and so I clicked it.
Then it listed a bunch of different topics that they’ve researched and showed a rating for it whether it was true, false, or undetermined. I searched for “lipstick” on the page and found that they had in fact researched the topic:
After reading through their information, I felt pretty confident that the email I had received was in fact false. To my surprise, they got into the specifics and even talked about FDA regulations that would prevent companies from selling lipstick with high amounts of lead.
Another impressive detail is that most of the topics are consistently updated. The topic I talk about above was last updated on October of 2007. Considering it was first sent in an email back in 2003 and has been going around since, that’s not so bad. They’re also consistently adding new articles debunking new myths.
Here’s a quick list of other interesting details about the site.
- Visit the Snopes Community Section and read through and contribute on different topics regarding urban legends.
- If you want to get updates on when new content is added to the site, you can subscribe to their weekly newsletter.
- View what’s new, the hottest 25 legends or weird news using the menu towards the top of the Snopes page
- Confused about a term you find on their site? View the glossary
While doing my research for this article, I came across an article at Slashdot which talks about how one of Snopes ad providers was distributing the Zango adware product. Apparently Snopes got enough emails about it because they responded to a complaint and said that they have removed “all advertisements from the agency that handles the ad in question while we investigate if and how such an ad was indeed being served to some of our visitors.” They also say that they “don’t ever knowingly run adware or malware on our site — that’s not who we are or who we’d ever want to be.”
If you ever receive an email forward that just doesn’t sound quite right, go to www.snopes.com and see if they’ve already researched it. Chances are, they have and you’ll know whether its worth passing on to friends and family.