Snopes

Snopes (pronounced /ˈsnoʊps/), also known as the Urban Legends Reference Pages, is a web site that is the best-known resource for validating and debunking urban legends, Internet rumors, e-mail forwards, and other such stories of uncertain or questionable origin in American popular culture.1 Snopes is run by Barbara Mikkelson and David Mikkelson, a California couple who met on the alt.folklore.urban newsgroup. The Mikkelsons also founded the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society, and were credited as the owners of the site until 2005.2 The site is organized according to topic and includes a message board where stories and pictures of questionable veracity may be posted.

History

David Mikkelson used the username "snopes" (the name of a family of often unpleasant people in the works of William Faulkner)34 in the Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban.5 Barbara Hamel was also a prolific poster. The Mikkelsons created the site in 1995.6 Barbara and David now work on the site full time.78


Main Site

Snopes aims to debunk or confirm widely spread urban legends. The site has been referenced by news media and other sites, including CNN,9 FOX news,10 MSNBC11 and Australia's ABC on its 'Media Watch' program. Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand considers the site so comprehensive as to obviate the necessity for launching one of his own.12 Snopes's popular standing is such that some chain e-mail hoaxes claim to have been "checked out on 'Snopes.com'" in an attempt to discourage readers from seeking verification.13 As of March 2009, the site has around 6.2 million visitors per month.14

Snopes directs people to more information about various hoaxes, especially with regard to chain e-mails. The Mikkelsons have stressed the reference portion of the name Urban Legends Reference Pages, indicating that their intention is not merely to dismiss or confirm misconceptions and rumors but to provide evidence for such debunkings and confirmations as well.15 Although they claim to research their topics heavily and provide references when possible, not all of their sources (especially personal interviews, phone calls, or e-mails) are fully verifiable. Where appropriate, pages are generally marked "undetermined" or "unverifiable" if the Mikkelsons feel there is not enough evidence to either support or disprove a given claim.16


"Lost Legends"

In an attempt to demonstrate the perils of overreliance on authority, the Mikkelsons created a series of fabricated urban folklore tales that they term The Repository of Lost Legends.17 (The name was chosen for its acronym, T.R.O.L.L., a reference to the early 1990s definition of the word troll to mean an Internet prank, of which David Mikkelson was a prominent practitioner.18)

One fictional legend averred that the children's nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence" was really a coded reference used by pirates to recruit members. (This parodied a real false legend surrounding "Ring Around the Rosie"'s link to the bubonic plague.) Although the creators were sure that no one could believe a tale so ridiculous — and had added a link19 at the bottom of the page to another page explaining the hoax, and a message with the ratings reading "Note: Any relationship between these ratings and reality is purely coincidental." — eventually the legend was featured as true in an urban legends board game and TV show.20


Criticisms

Snopes receives more complaints that it is too liberal than that it is too conservative, but insists that it applies the same debunking standards to all political stories. FactCheck reviewed a sample of Snopes' responses to political rumors regarding George W. Bush, Sarah Palin and Barack Obama, and found them to be free from bias in all cases.21

In 2007, the Snopes site featured pop-up ads for the controversial Zango adware product.2223 Snopes stopped serving the ads in January 2008, after criticism from tech sites, security experts and users.24


Television

A television pilot based on the site called Snopes: Urban Legends was completed with American actor Jim Davidson as host (the rumour that it was actually Jim Davidson, the English "comedian", was, fortunately, false), but major networks passed on the project.25 Another TV show, Mostly True Stories: Urban Legends Revealed, was shown to have been using information from Snopes when one of Snopes's invented "lost legends" appeared on the program as true.26


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