Snopes.com: Debunking Myths in Cyberspace

Old wives' tales have transformed themselves into Internet rumors, pranks and myths. Reporter Doug Fine talks to David Mikkelson, the co-founder of Snopes.com, a Web site dedicated to busting urban legends.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

Now there really are iguanas sunning themselves poolside in Florida and taking a swim. But remember the one about the alligators in New York's sewer system? Have you ever wondered if your favorite urban myth is true? Was there really a deep-fried rat at Kentucky Fried Chicken? Did Mikey, the boy in the Life cereal ads, really die from mixing the cereal Pop Rocks and cola? Try `Snopesing' it. That is, check out the Snopes.com Web site. Reporter Doug Fine recently spoke with the folklore sleuth who founded the Web site. We warn our listeners Fine's report may be hard on sensitive ears.

DOUG FINE reporting:

David Mikkelson's Web site is a verb. Along with Google, hip Web surfers now Snopes anything having to do with urban legends, pop culture myths and general folklore. Take Mikey and the Pop Rocks.

Mr. DAVID MIKKELSON (Snopes.com): Actually, that's always one that's kind of puzzled me about why it had such currency and was so widespread. Mikey is still alive, as we've pointed out lots of times.

FINE: The 45-year-old and his wife, Barbara, founded Snopes.com on a whim back in 1995. The site gets its name from Mikkelson's old Internet nickname. Most Snopes entries come from reader inquiries, but Mikkelson, a former computer programmer, said he has his favorite urban myths. These are the ones that he's surprised to discover are true.

Mr. MIKKELSON: There was a piece going around, purportedly from a medical journal, about a doctor who had treated a man who had had some sort of accident with an industrial saw and cut his scrotum open and then stapled it shut and then only went to the doctor several days later when it was massively swollen and infected. So I actually tracked down the doctor--I think was in Pennsylvania--and I wrote to him and he wrote back and said, `Oh, yes, I did treat this patient.'

FINE: The doctor, of course, didn't reveal the identity of the patient. It's health stories like this one, says Mikkelson, that fascinate Snopes visitors.

Mr. MIKKELSON: People everywhere are generally concerned about, say, their safety and about crime and about the health and welfare of their children and things that might threaten them. and these days we see a lot, a lot, of food-related legends, particularly fast-food. Like the food is supplemented or filled out with everything from earthworms to cows eyes to Styrofoam.

FINE: Snopes has covered everything from the infamous finger in the bowl of Wendy's chili to countless Bill Clinton and George W. Bush rumors. Mikkelson observes that people just want to know if something is true or not. Still, is he concerned or even sad that in an age of instant Snopesing and Googling our urban myths will disappear?

Mr. MIKKELSON: Technology changes, but human nature doesn't. Even on the Internet you see the same story pops up with different names in it, with different locations in it, just like, you know, the good old days when folklore was transmitted orally. It's--they--really the same phenomenon in just a different form.

FINE: Mikkelson likens myth spreading to the old game of telephone. The location and names and the stories keep getting changed, but the myths keep spreading even in the fast and furious Internet age. For NPR News, I'm Doug Fine.

LYDEN: Doug Fine is the author of the book, "Not Really An Alaskan Mountain Man."

This is NPR News.

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