The Snopes Parallax

Posted by Tamas_Harangi in politics, skepticism | 0 Comments

24

May

2010

A cursory Google search tends to disprove mass emails, hoaxes, and canards, but for some people, reality is way too biased to be of use.

I got one of those e-mails the other day. You know which ones I’m talking about. The mass forward kind from that one guy on your e-mail list who seems to hit forward almost as a Pavlovian reaction to news of doom and gloom which may or may not be government induced. He felt compelled to inform me that NASA, apparently, issued an acid rain warning because of a dark circle around the Moon. It sounded pretty astonishing so I did what I usually do when I get one of these e-mails, I ran a Google search, and low and behold, the first result — not the tenth, not the second, the first result — said: “Acid Rain hoax”. The link was to one of my favorite sites, Snopes.com, the internet clearing house for sorting through e-mail cons, pranks and fabrications. In the old days, the wild-west days of 2002, before I knew about Snopes, I sometimes had to spend up to a grueling four minutes to disprove a hoax e-mail with a Google search. But now, with the help of Snopes, an inquiring mind can do it in under 60 seconds. Snopes is the Sgt. Joe Friday of the internet, it gives you “just the facts, ma’am”. (BTW, Sgt. Friday never actually said those words on Dragnet. It’s a bit of an urban legend. Wanna know how I know that? Snopes.)

So, the big question remains: Why? Why do I still get these mass forwards? Why do I have to listen to regurgitated e-legends from the same people, years after I told them about where to find the evidence disproving their tall tales?

The answer was provided to me by one of these, no doubt forward-happy, netizens just a few days ago as I was perusing the comment section of Huffington Post. The subject had to do with the “Birther” phenomenon, a movement that keeps Snopes quite busy nowadays. When someone on the HufPo board brought up evidence presented on Snopes that disproved any birther claims, one commenter — let’s just call him Mr. Birther — declared Snopes a “Liberal Plant Site.”

I found that response absolutely fascinating, given that Snopes spends the same effort disproving lies about Sarah Palin and George Bush as it does with Barack Obama. They present independently verifiable facts and evidence to their claims. But what happens when independently verifiable facts come up against an ideology? In this case, how does Mr. Birther disprove a simple fact? Well, by calling it not a “fact” but a “liberal plant.” Easy. Case closed. Hit forward and it’s done.

Take this disconnect and ad a 24/7 news channel feeding into it, then a couple of radio hosts echoing it and you end up with a country where a good chunk of the population is living in a parallax view, where “facts” and “evidence” on one side are mere talking points to rebuff for the other side. To them, freedom means the ability to declare that 2+2=5, if 5 means they’re right. And anyone who says otherwise is just a liberal plant, including the media.

It’s a thought I need to wrap my head around. The knee jerk reaction of forwarding an e-mail of dubious validity on one side, might be met on my side with a knee jerk reaction to send someone a link from Snopes to shed light on its claims, but in both cases this seems to be a useless exercise amounting to nothing more than political agitation. As Stephen Colbert said “reality has always had a liberal bias” — and some people cannot be bothered by anything that’s so biased.

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