Monday, April 05, 2010

FW: Debunkers of Fictions Sift the Net

NY Times: 05-Apr-2010

It is one of the paradoxes of the Internet.

Along with the freest access to knowledge the world has ever seen comes a staggering amount of untruth, from imagined threats on health care to too-easy-to-be-true ways to earn money by forwarding an e-mail message to 10 friends.  "A cesspool," Google's chief executive, Eric E. Schmidt, once called it. 

David and Barbara Mikkelson are among those trying to clean the cesspool. The unassuming California couple run Snopes, one of the most popular fact-checking destinations on the Web.


For well over a decade they have acted as arbiters in the Age of Misinformation by answering the central question posed by every chain letter — is this true? — complete with links to further research.


In a given week, Snopes tries to set the record straight on everything from political smears to old wives' tales. No, Kenya did not erect a sign welcoming people to the "birthplace of Barack Obama." No, Wal-Mart did not authorize illegal immigration raids at its stores. No, the Olive Garden restaurant chain did not hand out $500 gift cards to online fans. 

The enduring articles are the ones about everyday fears: computer viruses, scams, missing children. Some e-mail chain letters, like the one offering users $245 for forwarding the message, never fade away. 

"People keep falling for the same kind of things over and over again," Mr. Mikkelson said. Some readers always seem to think, for instance, that the government is trying to poison them: Mrs. Mikkelson said rumors about AIDS have been recycled into rumors about swine flu vaccines.




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