Debunking rumors

Chain letters seem to have faded in popularity, and thank goodness for that, but people still forward a modern variation, emails that often relate a supposedly true story, sometimes of a “the media isn’t reporting this” variety. I don’t receive many of these either, another cause for a thank goodness, but when I do I always check the website Snopes.com.

Snopes investigates urban legends and spoof emails, debunking them or clarifying them or confirming their veracity.

At least twice in 2011, people forwarded me emails urging protests against the inclusion of Jane Fonda in a “women of the century” program on ABC. This one was true, but a little outdated; the program aired in 1999 — as one might expect of a program titled “Women of the Century” — and the email has continued circulating more than a decade into a new century. Hatred of Jane Fonda is eternal.

And recently, a reader forwarded me an email with a video that allegedly spoke for itself: President Obama leaving a podium after denouncing Republicans at a press conference and angrily kicking open a door at stage left.

Uh, really? This alleged news clip turns out to be a spoof video by Jay Leno, stripped of its context and made to look official.

Sad. Isn’t there enough real stuff about the president to object to without resorting to inventing more? I’m just saying.

Occasionally, one of these forwarded emails is absolutely true, as in one about photos showing Iraqi fighter jets buried in the sand. Why it’s necessary to continue sending around a 2003 email in 2011, which is when I got it, is another matter.

As I say, I don’t get many of these emails anymore, but when I do, I check them out on Snopes and “reply all” with the link to Snopes’ analysis. (Which may be why I don’t get many such emails anymore.) My action doesn’t accomplish much, but maybe the recipients won’t forward the email, or will be more skeptical in the future. As the saying goes, just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t make it true. The usual rules apply.

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  • John Clifford

    I’ve been using Snopes for a very long time. When I was in the R&D/Tech Support department at GTS Graphics in the ’90s and early ’00s, I would get LOTS of these types of emails passed around by my fellow employees. I became the “email cop” and would check out the veracity of claims. Fully 90+% of all of them were either false, or outdated.

    One of my favorites was a plea for a lost child which was still circulating years after the child had been found (about half an hour after the original email was sent).

    [Funny but sad. -- DA]

  • http://www.lagumbay.com/ Allan

    Wise words from Alfred Yankovic’s “Stop Forwarding That Crap To Me”

    “And I just can’t believe you believe those urban legends
    But I have high hopes
    Someone will point you toward Snopes
    And debunk that crazy junk you’re spewing constantly”

    5:42 running time — http://youtu.be/KCSA7kKNu2Y

    [There's even a Snopes tribute song? I had no idea. -- DA]

  • Ramona

    I spend a lot of time on the Snopes site. There is a message board that’s worth a visit in you haven’t already done so:

    http://message.snopes.com/ or from the main Snopes site.

    There are many, many forums so there are bound to be a couple or several of interest. Sometimes a subject will cause a lively debate which can get interesting.

    The debunking is priceless. My first visit had to do with spiders building nests in beehive hairdos so you know it’s been around a while. Since 1995 in fact.

    It’s handy to forward a debunking link to those folks we all know who insist on sending those annoying tales of woe. However, some people refuse to believe the truth and can get downright hostile. Debunk at your own risk.

    [That's good, all-purpose advice: "Debunk at your own risk." -- DA]

  • John Clifford

    Oh, and I’ve also forwarded an email to them as well. Sometimes you’ll look one up and there is nothing about it because it’s actually too new. I forget what it was, but I got one that “didn’t smell right” and forwarded it to Snopes so they could do their “fact checking.” While it took several weeks, I eventually got an email from them pointing to their evaluation and it turned out that while, in this case, there was some truth, the facts had been twisted.

    [I don't know if Snopes is an all-volunteer effort or what, but however it keeps going, the site certainly provides a useful service. -- DA]

  • Mark Allen

    I used to do a “reply all” with debunking information.

    Then it occurred to me that 99 percent of the recipients were annoyed by the original email and knew it was crap, so why should I become a spammer by sending them all a reply?

    [Perhaps so. -- DA]

  • vince turner

    David, Here is a video of the now defunked claremont spelling bee.

    http://youtu.be/tYqfe7bVmik

  • DebB

    Had to laugh at Ramona’s comment about her first visit to Snopes. That spider-in-the-beehive-hairdo story was going around when I was in junior high school in the 60s! There was no Snopes (and no Internet) around back then to debunk the rumor!

    I used to get forwarded emails from the receptionist at work. Because I commuted so far to work everyday, she would send me dire warnings about needles infected with various viruses taped to gas nozzles, Brazilian spiders arriving with flight attendants and hiding under public toilet seats, and other scary things. I’d always check Snopes and forward her the website, but she continued to forward the emails without checking.

    [Some people like being alarmed! -- DA]

  • James Rodriguez

    One I remember being forwarded to me was to warn if you see a car on the road at night with its lights off, to not flash your lights to let them know, because it was a wannabe gangbanger in the lightless car and his induction to the gang would be to shoot any motorist who flashes his light at him. Being old school, two things dont add up, first he would have a gun in his car and without his lights on he would also attract unwanted attention from the Police, plain dumb in my humble opinion.

  • StupidHappyIdiot

    I heard that George Clinton is coming out with a country music album and it’ll be called “Defunked.”

    In local weather, meteorologists have reported a strange fog in the early hours of the day. Unable to explain the phenomenon, scientists at the scene remained mistified.

    ["Back with more breaking spelling jokes after these commercial messages." -- DA]