While it’s always been a struggle to separate facts from misinformation made to sound like facts, with the growth of the Internet and email service, that process has gotten harder than ever.
Whether you’re one of those folks who gets dozens of emails a day, or one of the folks who’s not online but gets printed versions of a lot of “informational” emails, it’s easy to get duped by lies cloaked as truths.
Recently, I got an email from a frustrated reader who is getting sick of the barrage of lies peddled as truth. The reader wrote, “Although I’m certain that you and the Coalfield Progress check and double check sources, I felt it incumbent upon me to reply to an email that (sender’s name withheld) sent to you, me, and others.
“In that email (was) a news report formatted as an AP wire release concerning our President’s college transcripts, a report that supposedly calls into question our President’s citizenship qualifications.
“I simply ask that you check out the article at Snopes.com that debunks this rumor. Perhaps its time for our newspapers to begin doing editorials informing people that everything we receive via email, and everything allegedly reported as news on the Internet — is not true. You can check for yourself.”
Attached was the following web address — http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/occidental.asp.
Long story short, according to the fact-finding website Snopes.com, the article stating that President Barack Obama is not a native-born citizen, and therefore not eligible to serve in the highest office in the land, started as an April Fool’s joke that for months, got passed on as truth.
At the above web address, Snopes.com picked apart and refuted every false allegation, from a claim that the President attended college under another name as a citizen of another country, to the implication that the circulating document was actually an Associated Press story.
Will it stop the lie from circulating? No. Will it slow it down? Hopefully.
In the past decade, Snopes.com has become the “go-to” website for folks trying to track down everything from urban legends to money making opportunities.
While some stories that show up in our Inboxes are basically harmless, others are lies meant to defame and degrade public figures. The senders need to be stopped.
But who has time, in today’s short-staffed work environment, to pick stories apart and figure out what’s fact and what’s fiction?
That’s where Snopes.com comes in, according to David Hochman in an April 2009 Reader’s Digest story, “Rumor Detectives: True Story or Online Hoax.” In the article, Hochman describes in detail the incredible impact that founders Barbara and David Mikkelson have had on our culture. Would you believe these folks, who verify or debunk thousands of rumors and email claims, work from a modest double-wide outside Los Angeles, Calif.?
“What began in 1995 as a hobby for a pair of amateur folklorists has grown into one of the Internet’s most trusted authorities — and a full-time profession for the Mikkelsons,” Hochman writes.
“Each month, 6.2 million people visit Snopes, according to Quantcast, which tracks Internet traffic. The New York Times recently put Snopes on its short list of essentials that every computer user must know about,” Hochman continues.
The couple’s reputation for accurate and thorough research has grown so widespread, Hochman says, that the word Snopes, a name David borrowed from a family in a William Faulkner novel, has literally become a new verb in the English language, such as “Why didn’t you Snopes that junk before forwarding it to your entire e-mail list?”
Perhaps, that question needs to prompt a new responsibility for each of us. When we open an email, think it’s something interesting and prepare to forward it to others, we should take an extra step.
Just as we use word processing software to spell-check our documents and emails before sending them to others, perhaps we should make it a habit to run a “Snopes” check as well.
In a world where a warning or a rumor can literally circle the globe in a few short hours, we’d be doing a lot of folks a favor if we checked our facts before passing stories to others online.
(Ida Holyfield is Editor and Publisher of The Post newspaper of Big Stone Gap, Va. Column reprinted with permission)