The 3rd in a miscellany of short posts marking the 12 days of Christmas.
Around about the turn of the millennium, I forwarded an email warning to my sons. I meant well, honestly. What it concerned I can’t remember: cell phones igniting fumes at gas stations, perhaps, or gang members targeting cars that flashed them a warning that their headlights weren’t on. You know the sort of thing, I’m sure. Quick as a flash, back came a terse reply: This warning was bogus and you should really check these things out on Snopes.com before forwarding them. I mean, honestly!
Considering the source of this admonishment, I checked Snopes out and found a treasure trove of careful research and step-by-step debunking of internet stories. Their reasoning was explained; their sources were shown. Where stories were a messy mix of truth, half-truth, and outright fabrication, they carefully teased apart the reliable and unreliable elements. They distinguished ‘unproven’ from ‘false’, adding to their own credibility by avoiding the temptation to make judgements beyond what their research results would support.
I was a happy camper. Not for me the worry of failing to pass along a real warning, or the fear of contributing to public hysteria. A quick check on Snopes, and the email was almost always good to go to the recycle bin. I even got better at recognizing the characteristic tone of spurious email warnings.
Then one day one of those uplifting stories appeared in my inbox. What it concerned I can’t remember: a telephone operator’s connection with a child, perhaps, or a teenager’s act of heroism. You know the sort of thing, I’m sure. What provoked me to do it, I’ll never know, but before hitting ‘forward’ I checked the heartwarmer on Snopes. It was False! Oh no!
Now I was a disillusioned camper. Not for me the easy feel-good: a quick check on Snopes and most of those uplifting stories joined their alarmist cousins in my recycle bin. I even got better at recognizing their characteristic tone.
From glurge, to urban legends about crime, to hidden meanings in The 12 Days of Christmas, Snopes giveth common sense. In doing so, Snopes also taketh away the option of easy, unthinking acceptance of anything, really: the good, the bad, and the silly. Hard to learn, and even harder to unlearn, skepticism is the gift that keeps on giving.