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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.

snopes

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.

Ratings

Snopes uses a ratings system (shown below) so that users can easily see which stories are true, false or undetermined.

ratings key

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.

categories

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:

lipstick on snopes

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.

Other Details…

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

About Adware…

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.

There Are 7 Comments

  1. I take most things I read on the internet with a grain of salt, but my mother believes anything she gets in an Email. The last one she got was about getting cancer by microwaving food in plastic containers. A quick search on Snopes proves it false. A definite bookmark, for my mom at least. Thanks

  2. Michael Dobrofsky

    There’ll always be a large number of gullible people in the world. It’s just the way life is.

  3. Thanks, this will come in handy when educating people who forward mails like that without thinking. Usually I found what I needed by searching Google on a quote from the email, but this will at least be a good source to fall back upon :)

  4. I can’t count the number of times I’ve responded to gullible people who forward emails like this with a link to snopes and a comment to check it out before emailing your entire address book and within a month they’re sending another email with a different story. The best is when they send me the same stories that were circulating the net 10+ years ago. :twisted:

  5. I like snopes.com but the use of little red and green balls to identify true and false is impossible to see if you have trouble seeing color. 97% of people who don’t see color well can’t tell red from green. This is well know and in any decent book on web design, so for a sight that’s been around as long as they have it’s inexcusible.

    BUT other than the fact that I can’t tell true from false I love the site.

  6. Ryuu wrote:
    I take most things I read on the internet with a grain of salt, but my mother believes anything she gets in an Email. The last one she got was about getting cancer by microwaving food in plastic containers. A quick search on Snopes proves it false. A definite bookmark, for my mom at least. Thanks

    My mother and mother-in-law are the same way and it can be a little frustrating!

    kiltboy wrote:
    I can’t count the number of times I’ve responded to gullible people who forward emails like this with a link to snopes and a comment to check it out before emailing your entire address book and within a month they’re sending another email with a different story. The best is when they send me the same stories that were circulating the net 10+ years ago. :twisted:

    I’ve also been known to research these topics myself and then send my findings to the person who originally sent the email. It drives me crazy knowing they actually believed what was in the email.

    Carl wrote:
    I like snopes.com but the use of little red and green balls to identify true and false is impossible to see if you have trouble seeing color. 97% of people who don’t see color well can’t tell red from green. This is well know and in any decent book on web design, so for a sight that’s been around as long as they have it’s inexcusible.

    BUT other than the fact that I can’t tell true from false I love the site.

    It makes you wonder why they used red and green for stoplights then, doesn’t it?

  7. I still have not been able to find out …how I can find out if a email letter content is true or false.
    I have subscribed to both CyberNotes and Snoops.

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