Rumor-debunking website Snopes.com is one of the greatest websites on the Internet. But sad Snopes founders David and Barbara Mikkelson realize their quest is a Sisyphean one. Even in fact's domain, gossip reigns supreme.
Today's Times examines the Mikkelsons, whose relationship must become the basis of a romantic comedy ASAP: They met on a message board devoted to folklore, and began researching "the origins of classic tall tales, like the legend of the killer with a prosthetic hook who stalked Lovers' Lane, for a small but devoted online audience." That is, until September 11 brought the wacky urban legend paradigm to serious real-world affairs. Now, a lot of Snopes is dedicated proving that things Sarah Palin says are as ridiculous as that story about the guy waking up with his kidneys cut out in a bathtub full of ice.
But these two are not fact's triumphant defenders. Instead, they see the Internet as something like a high school bathroom stall, which users always deface with the same tired bullshit. They are the janitors, tirelessly painting over the filth. Mr. Mikkelson told the Times: "People keep falling for the same kind of things over and over again." In fact, they even appear to grudgingly accept the utility of the rumor: Mrs. Mikkelson even believes rumors to be a "source of comfort" to people. And later says of her and her husband's heroic debunking endeavors: "It's not like, ‘Well, we have to get out there and defend the truth... When you're looking at truth versus gossip, truth doesn't stand a chance."
It's true: For every Snopes, there's a Gawker and a Perez Hilton; for every David and Barbara Mikkelson, there's every single Huffington Post blogger. But, really, if you want to debunk the Montauk Monster, someone needs to create it first. Who's checking who?