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Frequently Asked Questions

Note: This FAQ contains information about snopes.com. For information about the founders and operators of snopes.com, Barbara and David P. Mikkelson, please view the About Us page.

Information about site- and folklore-specific terms that may be unfamiliar to readers is to be found on the Glossary page.


Content:

Q: Is everything on this site about 'urban legends'?

A: In a strict folkloric sense, no. Urban legends are a specific type of folklore, and many of the items discussed on this site do not fall under the folkloric definition of "urban legend." We employ the more expansive popular (if academically inaccurate) use of "urban legend" as a term that embraces not only urban legends but also common fallacies, misinformation, old wives' tales, strange news stories, rumors, celebrity gossip, and similar items.

Q: Why do you have some true stories listed as "urban legends"?

A: An "urban legend" is not the same thing as a "fictional tale" or an "apocryphal anecdote," although many people mistakenly use the term in that sense (e.g., "That's not true; it's just an urban legend!"). A tale is considered to be an urban legend if it circulates widely, is told and re-told with differing details (or exists in multiple versions), and is said to be true. Whether or not the events described in the tale ever actually occurred is irrelevant to its classification as an urban legend.

For example, the tale about a student who mistakes a math problem thought to be unsolvable for a homework assignment and solves it is an urban legend, even though something very similar did once happen in real life. The tale is still an urban legend, however, because over the years many of its details (i.e., when it happened, where it happened, the identity of the student, the reaction of the student's instructor) have changed as it has spread.

Q: I know something listed on your site really happened (or is otherwise true), but your site doesn't list it as true. Why not?

There are several reasons why this might be so:
  • We rate an urban legend as "true" when there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the legend began with a real-life event. If the actions described in an urban legend play out in real life after the legend has begun circulating, that is not an example of what we consider a "true" urban legend; it is a phenomenon known as "ostension" (and when someone deliberately enacts the events described by an urban legend, that is known as "pseudo-ostension").

    Many urban legends describe events so general and plausible that they might very well have happened to somebody, somewhere, sometime. But since the origins of urban legends can seldom be traced to specific, identifiable occurrences, we rarely categorize such legends as "true."
  • Many of the texts we discuss contain a mixture of truth, falsity, and exaggeration which cannot be accurately described by a single "True" or "False" rating. Therefore, an item's status is based upon the most important aspect(s) of the text under discussion, which is summarized in the statement made after the "Claim:" heading at the top of the page. It is important to make note of the wording of that claim, since that is the statement to which the status applies.
  • Many legends present events that may have taken place in real life only a few times (or once, or even never) as if they were frequent and regular occurrences, and we make a distinction between "This once happened" and "This is a common, on-going occurrence." For example, many warnings circulated by e-mail caution readers to be wary of some form of crime or other hazard that is claimed to be a widespread occurrence but actually has taken place only in a few unrelated, isolated cases, possibly in the distant past. Therefore, even though the event described may be "true" in the strictly literal sense that it is known to have occurred at least once, the underlying claim (i.e., that the event is a regular, widespread phenomenon) is not true.

Q: Where can I find an explanation for some of the unusual words and terms used on this site?

A: Our glossary page provides definitions of site- and folklore-specific terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers.

Q: Some of these stories are pretty racy. How about creating a sanitized version of the site for the kids?

A: That would be difficult to do because urban legends are expressions of adult fears and concerns and, as such, often convey those messages via stories that are unsuitable for children. We also cannot decide for other people what their children should or should not read.

Q: How come you sometimes analyze the content of political pieces, but other times you only verify who wrote them?

A: In general, when a political piece is primarily an editorial or other expression of opinion, we place it in our "Soapbox" section and attempt to verify only whether the attribution is correct (since opinions are not falsifiable, the attribution is the sole aspect of the piece that may be objectively determined as being true or false). When a political piece purports to offer facts, we place it in a relevant category and analyze the factual claims made within for veracity.

Q: Who creates the material for this site?

A: With very few exceptions, all of the material on this site is prepared by the same people who operate this site, Barbara and David Mikkelson.

Q: How do I know the information you've presented is accurate?

A: We don't expect anyone to accept us as the ultimate authority on any topic. Unlike the plethora of anonymous individuals who create and send the unsigned, unsourced e-mail messages that are forwarded all over the Internet, we show our work. The research materials we've used in the preparation of any particular page are listed in the bibliography displayed at the bottom of that page so that readers who wish to verify the validity of our information may check those sources for themselves.

Q: I spotted a typo on your site. Should I report it?

A: Corrections are always welcome, but keep in mind that text appearing inside a bordered box with a colored background is either an example of collected folklore or a quotation from another source, not our own writing. Because these items are pieces of folklore, we reproduce them exactly as we find them and do not edit them to correct orthographical errors.

Q: I want to put a link to your site on my own site. Is that okay?

A: Certainly!

Q: May I reproduce your material on my web site?

A: No. You are welcome to link to any of our articles from your site, but you may not reproduce the content of our pages on your own site, nor may you distribute the text of our articles via e-mail forwards or mailing lists, or by posting them to message boards or blogs. (All of these actions constitute copyright infringement.)

If you wish to direct other people to read a particular article on our site, please use the "E-mail this" link which appears on every page for that purpose.

Q: May I reproduce your material on my web site if I operate a non-commercial site, and I give you credit?

A: No. Using our material without our permission is copyright infringement, even if your site is non-commercial, and even if you give us credit.

Q: Why are you so hung up about copyrights?

A: Because we work hard to keep our information accurate and current, and when other people reprint our material we no longer have any ability to update it when new information becomes available. Reprinting our material without permission also deprives us of the advertising revenues we need to continue operating this site as a free resource.

Advertising and Finances:

Q: Who pays you to maintain this site?

A: Snopes.com is (and always has been) a completely independent entity which is wholly owned by its operators, Barbara and David Mikkelson, and receives no funding in any form. We have no financers, sponsors, investors, partners, or donors, nor do we have any affiliation or relationship (financial or otherwise) with any political party, religious group, business organization, government agency, or any other outside group or persons. We pay all the costs of producing and operating this web site ourselves and derive our income solely from the advertising revenues it provides.

Q: Are you funded by George Soros?

A: No, we are completely independent and self-supporting; we receive no funding in any form from any person, group, agency, or organization. And we wouldn't recognize George Soros if we sat next to him on a bus.

Q: Why do you display ads for the same things you're writing about? Are you being paid to write those articles?

A: Some of the advertising carried on our site is supplied by Google's AdSense program, a system that scans the text of web pages and automatically displays ads for products and services related to keywords appearing on those pages. We have no control over which ads Google chooses to display on any given page, nor do we have any business relationships with those advertisers.

Also, since we have a large and diverse variety of advertisements rotating through our site every day, and we cover a wide range of topics on our site, occasionally an advertisement for a particular business or product may display on a page that includes editorial content about that same business or product out of sheer coincidence.

We are not (and never have been) paid or provided with any other form of remuneration in exchange for writing about a particular topic.

Q: Why do you have advertising on your site?

We have no financers, sponsors, investors, partners, or donors, so advertising is our sole source of revenue. Without ads, we couldn't afford to operate this site as a free resource for everyone.

Q: Some of the ads on your site promote disreputable advertisers or cause problems with my computer. Why don't you get rid of them?

A: We do our best to ensure the advertisements we carry on our site are as inoffensive as possible, and we filter out ads that advocate partisan political causes or candidates, flash excessively, contain adult material, play (non-user-initiated) audio, spawn multiple windows, automatically trigger downloads, install malware, or misleadingly claim visitors have won contests or report the presence of viruses or spyware. However, with several thousand different advertisers rotating through our site on a daily basis, we can't possibly preview every advertisement appearing on our site (and vet all the sites they link to), so sometimes we're not aware we're carrying an ad that violates these guidelines until a reader points it out to us. (Some advertisers deliberately change their names from month to month or furtively switch pre-approved ad copy in order to bypass filters and fool advertising agencies and webmasters who have previously excluded their ads.)

If you find an advertisement on our site that violates any of the guidelines mentioned above, please use our "Contact Us" form to send the details (e.g., name of the advertiser, description of the ad, a screen capture of the ad) to us, and we'll investigate removing it from our site. Please note that without these details (especially screen shots) it is often difficult for us to identify a particular problem ad — many ads are geotargeted to specific countries or regions of the U.S., and if the geotargeting excludes the area where we live, we can't see the ads for ourselves.

Q: Why do you code your pop-unders to defeat pop-up blocking software?

A: We have nothing to do with the coding of advertisements; we simply reproduce the standard ad-serving code provided by the agencies who furnish advertising to our site. If you are still seeing pop-under ads despite having a pop-up blocker enabled, you should contact the manufacturer of the software you are using to see about obtaining an updated version.

Q: Why do you place ads so that they cover up some of the text in your articles?

A: All of our advertising is carefully positioned not to obscure any of the text or other elements within our articles, but not all browsers properly render the code used to align advertisements. If you encounter difficulties in reading an article due to a particular advertisement contained therein, you can usually eliminate the problem by simply refreshing the page, which will (in most cases) cause different ads to display within the article. If you are experiencing difficulty with a banner ad obscuring the search engine entry box on an article page, you can get around this issue by simply using our main search engine page.

Q: Why does every page on your site trigger a pop-up ad?

A: We do not accept pop-up ads for our site (only pop-under ads), and we try to minimize their intrusiveness by ensuring that no reader sees more than one or two pop-under advertisements per visit to our site. This limitation is accomplished through the setting of cookies by the agencies that delivers ads to our site. If you are seeing more than a few pop-under ads per visit, the most likely cause is that the security configuration of your browser or firewall is blocking these cookies.

Q: Why does my security software register intrusion attempts when I visit your site?

A: Most Internet advertising agencies use cookies to keep track of which ads have been displayed to a particular visitor. These cookies do not acquire or collect any personal information about visitors (such as name, address, phone number, or e-mail address), and the technical information they do temporarily store (such as geographic location, browser type, and IP address) is used solely for the purpose of targeting ads and measuring a given ad's effectiveness. Nonetheless, some security programs flag such cookies as "adware" and/or mistakenly report cookie placement as an attempt to download software to the user's computer.

If you are uncomfortable with the use of cookies to temporarily store non-personal information, you can delete the cookie or alter your browser's security settings to prevent it from accepting cookies.

Technical Questions:

Q: Why can't I use the scroll bar when reading pages on your site?

A: This problem is caused by a bug in the version of Firefox you're using. You can avoid this problem by using a different browser or a different version of Firefox.

Q: Why do I see a frowning green face instead of graphics when I view your pages?

A: Because we've had so many problems with other sites hotlinking to our graphics (thereby using up a large portion of our bandwidth), we've implemented an anti-hotlinking configuration. If any site other than our own attempts to display one of our images, the attempt will fail and a picture of a frowning green face will be displayed instead.

If you are visiting our site but are seeing pictures of a frowning green face in place of our graphics, the most likely causes are that you are going through a proxy server, or you are using a firewall or browser configured in such a way that it does not present valid referrer information to our web server.

Q: Why do some links open up in new browser windows?

A: Whenever we include a link that jumps you to a different section of our web site (or off our site entirely), we open the linked page in a separate window to maintain continuity and ensure that you don't lose your place.

Q: The colored bullets identifying whether entries are true or false don't work for me because I'm (red-green) color blind. Why don't you change them?

A: We chose our red-yellow-green coding system because its "traffic light" pattern can be understood by most of our readers with little or no explanation. While we understand that about 8% of our readership experiences some form of color blindness and therefore cannot distinguish the different colors of bullets, alternative indicator systems we have tried have proved confusing to many of our non-color blind readers. Therefore, we have chosen to stick with a system that works very well for 92% of our readers (especially since the bullet system is merely a cosmetic feature which is unnecessary to the ordinary navigation and use of our site).

Nonetheless, we have employed some alternative coding methods to accommodate our color blind readers:
  • Passing the mouse pointer over the colored bullets will produce pop-up text identifying their colors.
  • Colored bullets appear only on index (table of content) pages. The explanatory pages reached by clicking through the hyperlinks on those index pages feature text-based "Status:" lines at their heads.

Miscellany:

Q: What are 'snopes'?

A: Snopes is the name of a family of characters who appear throughout the works of American writer William Faulkner. See the Faulkner on the Web glossary entry about Snopes for more information.


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