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.
The popularity of Snopes — it attracts seven million to eight million unique visitors in an average month — puts the couple in a unique position to evaluate digital society’s attitudes toward accuracy.
After 14 years, they seem to have concluded that people are rather cavalier about the facts.
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 Mikkelsons talk matter-of-factly about why these stories spread the way they do…
[continues in the New York Times]