Is Snopes not to be trusted?

I got this in an email from a brother-in-law who falls for every internet scam going, and now I’m wondering; can I actually trust Snopes?

This is what the email said: “don’t believe everything you read on snopes other web sites like them have shot snopes down for not checking all there facts and even down right fabricating material, they have been proven wrong many times i don’t trust them.” His inability to write a proper English sentence aside, is there any truth to what he’s saying? Is my faith in misplaced?

sounds like an urban legend to me.


I’m sorry. I know this is GQ. I know we shouldn’t joke until there’s been a reasonable attempt to answer the question. I just couldn’t resist. Mods, please don’t hit me.

Don’t put blind trust in anyone. A source gains credibility from providing evidence of some kind, or references to where such evidence can be found. Snopes generally does this, and thus is often trustworthy, much moreso than the typical chain e-mail. I don’t happen to know of any major instance in which they had the wool pulled over their eyes or otherwise screwed up. All the same, don’t put blind trust in anyone.

Snopes has serious creds.

While no research group is perfect, and research is often limited by the sources available and the amount of available evidence, Snopes holds up damn well.

Your bro-in-law needs to substantiate this claim: “…they have been proven wrong many times…”

And he needs to set parameters around this vagueness: “…many…”

Yeah, he needs to do a lot of things, like use his brain, but I’m not holding my breath.

I think you answered you own question in one.

Adding–while this is a question that could be moved to IMHO, I"ll let it stand here, for now.

This is true. Snopes is highly regarded by professionals (people who have advanced degrees in Folklore and / or who are members of professional societies such as the American Folklore Society).

I like Snopes, and I refer to them semi-regularly. They’re certainly honest, hard-working, and try very hard to be diligent in their fact-checking.


Yes, they’re wrong, occasionally. They told us for years that the famous “In The Butt, Bob” incident alleged to have happened on “The Newlywed Game” never happened. We now know that, in fact, it did. They weren’t lying, mind you- they asked all the relevant people, including Bob Eubanks, who all assured them it was a fabrication.
And they chose to believe the people who were in a position to know. It just turned out that all the most knowledgeable people were wrong!

More seriously, I think they have their own political prejudices, and sometimes those prejudices color their work They’re also just a tad arrogant. They make absolute pronouncements on “facts” that are really a matter of interpretation. Look at what they have to say about the “legend” that John Hanson was the first President of the US.

I think they go WAY overboard in giving that one a red light. John Hanson was a real person, and he really DID hold the title of President under the Articles of Confederation. Now, Hanson’s position and powers were NOT the same as those of George Washington and his successors, but even so, I maintain that “John Hanson was the first President of the USA” is NOT falsifiable in the way that “Mr. Rogers was an Army sniper” is. It’s a sort-of-true statement that deserved a yellow light, at worst.

I respect Snopes, but I don’t treat their word as gospel on any subject.

And to their credit, they’d be quick to say that I SHOULDN’T!!!

But John Hanson was never President of the United States. That’s demonstratably false, since there was no “United States” as a single entity until the Constitution was ratified. The states were united, but they were not a single country yet when Hanson was the presiding officer of their deliberating body.

Calling Hanson “President of the US” is like saying the chairman of the General Assembly of the United Nations is President of the World.

In any case, Snopes may occasionally be in error when new evidence comes to light to contract previous evidence. However, they always change the entry as new evidence comes in. That is how such a site should work – come up with an explanation, but if further evidence contradicts it, change the page. Sort of like the way science is supposed to work.

No one is 100% right, but Snopes is correct nearly all the time, except in a handful of ambiguous cases. Even virus hoaxers know that Snopes will set people straight – they now try to use Snopes as an authority (by linking to an actual virus that has nothing to do with the warning).

I would suspect that what the people your brother are citing are talking about things from The Repository of Lost Legends. Where Snopes actually builds up a few deliberately false stories. Such as “Was Mr. Ed a Zebra?” or “Were Mobile homes named for something other than their portability?”

ETA: Be sure to follow the more information links on the pages.

I think the operative wording is “did it happen” and “did it get shown on tv.” Yes, it happened. Was it shown on tv–yes, but when?

In doing my own modest search for the answer to this question, I ran across the TROLL site on Snopes almost immediately, too. I’m not sure it’s a great idea for Snopes to have this on their site - when people like me send people like my BIL there, the last thing he needs is to have to sort the real site from the “teach you a lesson in credulity” part.

Really, given that (1) some people take great pleasure in believing silly rumours, and (2) Snopes rains on their parade, you could pretty much predict (even if you hadn’t heard) that those people were going to develop a silly rumour that Snopes was unreliable.

My dear mother, 85 this year, who is a Baptist, but is pretty cool about life in general, sends me emails from her religious friends all the time. Quite often, the emails say that they’ve checked it out with snopes, and it’s true.

This is a new wrinkle in the emails she used to send as recently as 2-3 years ago. The spammers have learned to use the snopes reference to validate their bullshit.

I believe that those were written as April Fool’s gags. They’re kept around more for the sake of humor and inflating the content count than to really try and beat people over the head.

I don’t find that Snopes is factually inaccurate very much, but the preachiness, the speculation, and the pseudo-psychology used to explain the existence of certain legends are sometimes ridiculous.

I once sent an email asking why the last paragraph of this entry was necessary on a website dedicated to debunking urban legends, and received a reply from “snopes” that went waaaay beyond snarky.

ETA: I do not now, nor have I ever worked for Starbucks, and I find their coffee to be over roasted.

I agree with astorian on this one. If I had to answer this question as a yes or no, I suppose I’d be forced to say no. But by any reasonable standard the answer should be maybe.

Hanson and his successors did hold the official title of “President of the United States”. But the meaning of that title was very different from the title that George Washington and his successors held. So either position can be legitimately argued. Snopes should have just explained what the facts were and let people make their own conclusions.

I’ve found that replying to urban legend chain mailings with the link to the Snopes story is a gentle way of dealing with the problem. It’s much gentler than calling my friends gullible fools who clog my inbox with ridiculous garbage. Also, it gives them a source to do basic fact checking before spamming their mailing list.

That’s a fine line the scammers are treading. They want to encourage people’s critical thinking regarding Snopes, yet still hope they will remain gullible towards the scam.

I am always disappointed that every year they run an April Fools’ Day joke. It seems out of character and potentially troublesome.

Heh. At work, we’re required to give safety presentation once a year, on whatever subject we choose. My co-worker’s presentation was on The Triangle of Life.

My co-worker fired up the projector and showed clips from Doug Copp’s self-promotional video. There was something about Copp–his demeanor, the way he talked, that just didn’t ring true. So, what do you know, the first thing that googled up was the Snopes link. It seems that this guy and his “American Rescue Team” have a reputation. My co-worker is a smart guy, but I think he should have done a bit more research before making his presentation.