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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.
Tag Archives | Snopes.com
Thomas Crapper is an elusive figure: Most people familiar with his name know him as acelebrated figure in Victorian England, an ingenious plumber who invented the modern flush toilet; others believe him to be nothing more than a hoax, the whimsical creation of a satirical writer. The truth lies somewhere in between. Much of the confusion stems from a 1969 book by Wallace Reyburn, Flushed with Pride: The Story of Thomas Crapper. Reyburn's "biography" of Crapper has often been dismissed as a complete fabrication, as some of his other works (most notably Bust-Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling and the Development of the Bra) are obvious satirical fiction. Although Flushed with Pride is, like Bust-Up, a tongue-in-cheek work full of puns, jokes, and exaggerations, Reyburn did not invent the person of Thomas Crapper as he did Otto Titzling. In Flushed with Pride, Reyburn's satire rests on the framework of a real man's life. Thomas Crapper was not, as Reyburn wrote, the inventor of the flush toilet, a master plumber by appointment to the royals who was knighted by Queen Victoria, or an important figure whose achievements were written up in the Encyclopedia Britannica...
If you have older relatives, and they have email accounts, I’d guess that you’re pretty familiar with Snopes.com. It’s likely that, for the first few months of their sending you urgent messages about free Applebee’s dinners or gang members threatening people’s lives, you dutifully found rebuttals from Snopes to pass on, intending to limit occasion for embarrassment when they send such things to others. Then you realized that embarrassment is an emotion powerless against the potency of sheer terror. That no matter how often you demonstrated the fraud behind these emails and ones exactly like them with different brands and new murder plots, still the emails kept coming. Perhaps you even flagged these relatives as junk mail. Snopes is the tireless and passive scold of the Internet, calmly assessing any and all madness regardless of provenance, and ensuring that the truth is told. It stands patiently in a corner of the Internet, a stationary Diogenes called into action primarily in moments of spite. The offspring of a California couple with a penchant for urban folklore, the site originally focused on the sorts of nonsense mentioned above — rumors about people trying to give you free things or trying to rape you. As a result, that’s traditionally what was most common on the 25 Hottest Urban Legends page. And then came Barack Obama.