From Debunking Urban Legends to Political Fact-Checking

  • William Aspray
  • James W. Cortada
Part of the History of Computing book series (HC)


This chapter provides a new, broader understanding of the political fact-checking that has been so prominent in the United States since the 2016 presidential election but which is also becoming a major trend in many other countries. The major story line in this chapter is the emergence of snopes, one of the leading political fact-checking organizations today, out of the Usenet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban (AFU), when two of AFU’s most active members, David and Barbara (Hamel) Mikkelson, pulled their material from AFU to create snopes, taking advantage of the newly created public Internet. The chapter describes the creation and the culture of AFU, the concept of urban legends and the style, purpose, and methods used by AFU members to evaluate urban legends. The chapter then traces the history of snopes as it evolves from the study of urban legends to political fact-checking. The growth in popularity of snopes, the methods and practices it follows, and some criticism of these methods by information scholar Kalev Leetaru are considered. The chapter closes with the crisis for snopes that occurs when the two founders divorce and the organization is beset by legal challenges from its marketing and technology support organization.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Aspray
    • 1
  • James W. Cortada
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Information ScienceUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Charles Babbage InstituteUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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