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Who Debunks the Debunkers?

We all know one; some of us know more than one. That person who forwards every BS e-mail claiming that Obama is a secret Muslim terrorist, or that the Bush administration funded 9-11, or that California is trying to make Christianity illegal, and so on, so on, so forth. My usual response, as is the response of many I've gathered, is simply to send back the URL of the appropriate Snopes article that calls out their shenanigans. The person never learns their lesson (i.e., check Snopes first and stop spreading lies), but they do eventually stop forwarding you e-mails because they hate having their worldview proved wrong yet again.

Of course, it's only natural that the urban legend e-mailers would develop defenses against this wanton display of facts. The first line of defense was to start putting "This e-mail has been declared 'true' by Snopes, so don't bother to go check it!" at the top of the e-mail. Of course, if you then doggedly go check Snopes anyway, you find that they're lying through their teeth. So that ruse quickly stopped being effective.

So now they've taken it to the next level, which is to start sending around e-mails attacking Snopes directly. We just got the first of these last night, an e-mail that claims another site (TruthOrFiction) has revealed that -- Gasp! -- Snopes is run by a husband-and-wife team of amateur fact-checkers (which presumably is supposed to be a problem for some reason); the e-mail then goes on to say that TruthOrFiction has shown them to be LIBERALS (Oh noes!) so obviously you can't believe a word they say.

Except they're not.

Well, rephrase, they might be for all I know, but that's not something TruthOrFiction says. In fact, TruthOrFiction says:

Snopes.com is an excellent site that has become an authoritative source for information about urban legends and forwarded emails. We regard David and Barbara Mikkelson, the founders and operators of Snopes.com, as colleagues and professional researchers who have earned a good reputation for what they do.

We can give a unique perspective on this story because we do the same kind of work as Snopes.com and have sometimes been the target of similar criticism.

We've got a collection of emails that have come to TruthOrFiction.com accusing us of being "right wing whackos" as well as "liberals" and "communists." We've been suspected of being owned and operated by both Republicans and Democrats. We've been called "Christian propagandists" as well as "atheists pretending to be neutral." We occasionally receive emails that have elaborate theories about who "really" owns us and what our "real" motives are.

The bottom line is that if you try to report the truth, there will be those who don't like the truth you've reported and who will develop suspicions about why you did.

That, in our view, is what is happening with Snopes.

The 2008 presidential campaign has been one of the most intense and unique in our nation's history and has prompted more political eRumors than any presidential campaign in our experience, especially about Barack Obama.

These anti-Snopes emails have probably been prompted by someone who does not like Barack Obama and does not like the fact that Snopes (or TruthOrFiction.com for that matter) has debunked some of the emails that are not true about him.

I fully expect the next e-mail that comes along to claim that TruthOrFiction.com is funded by Al-Qaeda.

-The Gneech


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 7th, 2010 12:37 pm (UTC)
"Reality has a well known liberal bias." - Stephen Colbert, White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, 4/29/2006
May. 7th, 2010 03:09 pm (UTC)
... this was exactly my indented response.

So I'll see your Colbert, and raise you a Suskind quoting an "unnamed source":

The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." ... "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
-- Ron Suskind, The New York Times Magazine, 17 October 2004

Edited at 2010-05-07 03:14 pm (UTC)
May. 7th, 2010 05:02 pm (UTC)
I can barely even parse that.

May. 7th, 2010 05:50 pm (UTC)
Quick translation: Mr. Suskind views himself as a gifted actor, and want the rest of us peons to sit down and watch his grade-school, PTA-sponsored performance and grant him the adulation he thinks he deserves.
May. 7th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
Erm ... not sure the text supports that interpretation. (Among other things, Suskind is quoting what somebody said to him.)

May. 8th, 2010 01:09 am (UTC)
Ah, sorry. I missed that he was quoting. But my comment about the translation applies just as well to the unnamed source.
May. 7th, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC)
In my understanding, the person quoted is saying "What you call 'reality' are just what we in charge say they are. If, tomorrow, we decide that red is green, treason is patriotic, and friends and enemies have swapped places, they have, and you'll follow blindly along."

I'm guessing they refer a bit more to "political realities", rather than physics or chemistry.

That puts me in mind of a Dr. Who quote... "The incredibly powerful and the incredibly stupid both have one thing in common: They don't alter their views to fit the facts. They try and alter the facts to fit their views." I've only seen it quoted, no idea where it's from, precisely. I think it went on to say that it becomes very uncomfortable when you are one of the facts that need altering.
May. 7th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
Figures that people would start attacking debunkers. Facts have this nasty way of keeping lies from being considered truth.

The most amusing reaction to those BS email (Is it weird that I can't stand writing 'emails'?) that I've heard of is to sign the sender up for newsletters from sites like moveon.org.
May. 7th, 2010 01:37 pm (UTC)
Aww, but the e-mails claiming that Pres. Obama started Snopes to help his true Master, the Father of Lies, spread his children are so amusing...
May. 7th, 2010 03:28 pm (UTC)
May. 7th, 2010 11:50 pm (UTC)
*rolls eyes*

Just show me the facts...
May. 9th, 2010 09:16 pm (UTC)
Relax, Max, I'll fax you the facts.

Then we can get down to brass tacks.
May. 10th, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
May. 11th, 2010 07:03 pm (UTC)
Hey Max, want a peanut?
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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