I wrote this in 2009 for a final in Research Writing. Snopes being an academically supported resource mystified me at the time and does still.
So, What Really Happened?
Well good Lord! If Snopes.com says so, you can bet yer life on it!! Right?? Well, It’s like this, see?
Is Obama a Muslim? Is Donald Trump going to run for President? Is George Bush responsible for global warming? Is there such a thing as global warming, and if so, what is it? Can toenail clippings cure cancer? As a writer of political commentary and having grown up with computers and the internet, I’ve long been aware of the amazing ability to collect information provided by the internet. Whatever one is curious about can be answered, and information from any source can be verified. This certainly seems to be true, but it does require a great deal of researching different sites and calculating the various results. Even then, what do you know for sure? Answers and verification, no problem, but is there a single site one can rely upon to provide true and accurate information?
There is indeed a web site that purports to do exactly that. With unquestionable certainty: “Snopes.com”. In the actual heading to their own site, they say “Welcome to Snopes.com, the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.” (Mikkelson, Barbara and David. http://www.snopes.com (http://www.snopes.com/)). This is indeed a pretty tall claim and an impressive endeavor. If true, the value of the site is great indeed. This would turn hours of research into a very quick and easy project. Even at minimum wage, the hours I spend on research each week would amount to hundreds of dollars, I actually value my time at much greater than minimum wage, so the value of such a site, for me at least, would be considerable indeed!
So what of “Snopes.com”? It seems likely that such a site would necessarily be armed by quite a crew of researchers. There are a lot of online sources referencing the tremendous effect of “Snopes.com”, but interestingly, most of those sources appear to be somehow connected to “Snopes.com”. More extensive searching turns up significant doubts about the actual dependability of this site. Snopes is owned and operated by a husband and wife team: David and Barbara Mikkelson, just a mom and pop operation begun as a hobby. Hardly the largely staffed team of qualified researchers one might expect.
It turns out there is a great deal of commentary available shedding rather negative light on the accuracy and dependability of Snopes.com”. For example an article by Joseph Farah entitled “Beware the Internet” provides examples of incorrect information provided by “Snopes.com”, including an example of his own work being misquoted by them. Farah says, “I would dare say we spend quite a bit more time and energy and resources putting together our reports for WND than the inexperienced and unprofessional researchers at Snopes do theirs. Does that express my opinion clearly enough?”
In reference to Obama’s citizenship, “Snopes.com” posted an image of a “Certification of Live Birth” as positive proof that he is, indeed a citizen. This has since been demonstrated not to have been an actual “Birth Certificate” nor a copy of such. In fact, California Lawyer , Orly Taitz has pointed out that the form used by “Snopes.com” is a “Short Version Certificate of Live Birth” which names no hospital, no doctor and is available based simply on the statement of a relative. Hardly the “definitive” result one might expect.
Stories such as these are quite common. In addition to these is a growing suspicion that the Mikkelsons are quite politically oriented and leaning significantly to the left. I did my own little experiment. I looked at the history of claims about President George Walker Bush, compared to claims about President Barrack Hussein Obama. I have no personal knowledge as to the truth of most of these claims, but I did perceive a political flavor which appears to be leftist. This appeared as much in the wording of the “claims” as in the results reported. Such as, “While a teenager, future first lady Laura Bush cause [SIC] the death of a classmate in a car accident”. Since this was neither “rumor” nor a “claim” but is a well known fact, one wonders why was it even presented? Could it be to shed some negative light on those horrible Bushes? “President Bush has appointed W. David Hager, a physician and anti-abortion activist, to an FDA committee on reproductive drugs.” What is it that makes this a “rumor” or a “claim”? If one were a leftist the fact that he was “anti-abortion” would have import and there appears no other reason to even bring it up. No one ever did claim otherwise than what was reported. How about “Barack Obama urged his supporters to join him in changing the greatest nation in the history of the world” which was called false by “Snopes.com”. I personally heard Obama make such a statement, the difference between the statement he actually made, and the “false” claim was the wording, “the greatest nation in the history of the world”. He actually said, “America”… Or we have “Barack Obama does not qualify as a natural-born citizen of the U.S. because his mother was too young.” Now where have you heard that claim? Oooh, you haven’t? Me either. This brings one to wonder at the motivation for seemingly creating a “rumor” which, even if it exists at all, is certainly not widespread. The real rumor is that Obama is not an American because he was not born in the U.S.A., having nothing to do with the age of his mother, which would be irrelevant in any case.
On the positive side, the site is very easy to navigate. The wealth of information is broken down into 43 categories, each of which is filled with numerous “claims” or “rumors” with color codes indicating the veracity of the item in question. The site also features a search capability, enabling the user to find specific topics of interest.
I find the site to be almost childish in it’s design, particularly in the artistic quality, but this is merely a personal opinion and others may find it interesting or amusing. This does not stand in the way of the usefulness of the site.
Ultimately, even though “Snopes.com” makes big claims and is viewed favorably by many, it certainly is not the infallible resource we are hoping for. It is indeed useful, interesting, and entertaining, and but one more on the large list of various resources to consider when looking into a topic.