What Is a ‘Misinformation Ouroboros’?

The image of a snake eating its own tail is a metaphor at least as ancient as the tomb of Tutankhamen.

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The image of a snake eating its own tail — a metaphor at least as ancient as the tomb of Tutankhamen — may symbolize various eternal cycles: life and death, fertility, the infinite nature of time and space. But after Snopes fact-checker Bethania Palma used the reference in her reporting, it occurred to us the “tail-eater” is an apt visual for how lies and misinformation spiral online.

Lightly probe some rumors and you’ll find no primary source that parented the claim in question. Rather, a tweet or article advancing the rumor jaws onto another story or tweet, that links to another unsourced story or tweet, and on and on it goes — no primary sources in sight. As a general rule, if you cannot find a mouth without someone else’s tale in it — visualize the ouroboros’ eternal spin and ask yourself: Where does this story end? Hopefully right then and there because you, wisely, opted not to share it.

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