Most of the time, when someone sends me those forwarded emails, I just delete them. Yep, I have been the cause of many chain letters coming to a complete and total stop with the stroke of just one key on my computer (if ONLY that were possible!) Occasionally, I will cave and check out something sent to me – usually because I am bored or am tricked by my cat-like curiosity. When I do open them, I have the Skeptic’s habit of checking Snopes.com to verify that it is, indeed, full of, well, total crap. I don’t just stop there though as I will then inform the sender that I have just “Snoped” their email, and will happily give them the link to PROVE once and for all that what they just passed on is not true.
What I like best about Snopes is that they follow very closely the “rules” of trustworthiness: they date all of their posted material, they give information as to where they found the facts and document their sources and they will tell you if they could not verify something as being true or false, the writers of the site are OK if they have to be in a “grey” area on something and will often point out that one claim or urban legend is partially true but then make clear the parts that are not true. It is easy to search and access the information I am looking for.
My Story picks up with a certain friend of mine, a prolific forwarder. This friend must belong to a “Forwarder’s Guild” or some such group as she seems never without something noxious, politically polarizing and generally misleading to pass on. I began Snoping her emails hoping that it might frustrate her at least enough to take me out of her ‘Send to All’ list. The total opposite occurred. She LOVED it. She actually began sending me emails personally with the request, “Could you Snope this for me? You are so much better at finding these things than I am…” but I suspect a certain level of laziness on her part. I really thought I had scored a WIN for the Skeptics.
Then she called me one day in distress because she had received an email about a rumor that Snopes was being run by, *GASP* Lefties who had an agenda and were sending out information that was biased and could not be trusted. She was really upset that she could not now trust another source that she had thought was a “good” one. Well, of course, I looked into it, and I really can’t remember the details of the claim or the counter-argument, but if I am recalling correctly, then it was something to do with a mistake that Snopes had made or had posted something that was leaning left in it’s undercurrent or something, but whatever it was, Snopes corrected it or was vindicated and all was well again. Those who prefer fear-mongering as their way of informing others, or who don’t like being told that they have been duped, were screaming from the rooftops that Snopes was BAD and no one should use it. (If anyone remembers or knows what this was actually about, it was about a year ago, I would welcome a reminder on what the deal was).
But, what actually happened is not the point. I was able to use this event (or non-event depending on the details that I have conveniently forgotten) as a teaching opportunity to point out to my friend what a trusted source is to a Skeptic. I explained to her why Snopes could still be trusted and how even a much-loved expert, writer, educator or scientist can make mistakes, but it is the routine practices of such people that earns them our trust. Such resources of information will generally cite sources, date entries, admit mistakes (if such errors are PROVEN, and not just a “you are wrong ‘cuse I said so” type of error) and make corrections. They have a transparency to their information gathering and even if there is a political, social, or other type of bias present, the information given is still sound and trustworthy because it can be proven, cited or sources tracked. Such resources are not hard to identify. Other Skeptics, critical thinkers, scientists and the like use them, tout their credibility, and encourage others to use them. I also pointed out to this friend that a website such as Snopes.com is still an internet source and was not an end-all, be-all kind of place to get rock-solid information, and that although it was good, it was not infallible, but it could still be used for the pedestrian task of debunking an already sketchy email or urban legend (I wouldn’t, say, rely on a Snope’s reference in a court of law).
She says she understood, yet I am not sure. I will occasionally, but far less-so, still get these from her. I find it laughable that anonymous emails forwarded down the line by friends-of-friends-of-friends is a WONDERFUL source and should be passed on to others so that they can be In The Know as quickly as possible but her first reaction to the Snopes rumor was a knee-jerk response to abandon her trust in the site.
What my dear friend failed to understand in the first place was that “Snoping” someone was not to give an “A-HA! you were WRONG!” award to someone (although, anyone who says they don’t enjoy doing it a little bit is LYING!) but rather, it is a concerted effort to promote the truth. To follow one’s own tenet of living in that truth and to just stop being lied to under the guise of “life would be better if you just KNEW what those ‘experts’ won’t tell you” or “this miracle product that is not tested or proven under any standards will totally change your life for the better (and make your wallet less burdensome to carry around)” or “you really need to live better and healthier by taking sugar pills with water ‘dried’ on them” type of advice. It is about spreading a different way of thinking. Of hearing something that seems fantastical and then going on to find out if the story or point of information is even based in truth or not. Of showing someone where to find that truth and then letting them alone to do it for themselves. I want to live in the Truth, I figure others would want to too (aagghhh!! what is that said about ASSuming?). But, sadly, some will only do it with the idea that they are playing a game and not really learning a new way of thinking.
So, if you want to get me to join your pyramid scheme to get a whole bunch of pretty underwear from strangers, or a collection of favorite recipes through the miracle of an email chain letter, forget about it! It WILL be deleted. AND if you send me the latest crap about the next miracle cancer cure, or some recycled public warning about poisoned business cards – it will be SNOPED!