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2021 in Review: Highlights From Snopes.com

If this year taught us anything, it's this: A dire need remains for fact-based, explanatory journalism.

Published Dec 15, 2021

 (Angie Wimberly)
Image Via Angie Wimberly

This was supposed to be the year of defining a “new normal” — and, in our opinion, maybe even having a re-do.

No such luck. First, we saw a massive misinformation campaign to try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Never before had we battled such a well-funded effort to try to erode Americans’ trust in the democratic process, nor had we seen so many extreme ideas go mainstream from fringe political groups. Heading into the year, we had a sophisticated operation to closely monitor obscure corners of the internet where voter-fraud conspiracies originated.

Yet nothing could have prepared us for Jan. 6, 2021. From cell phone footage supposedly showing Capitol police helping Trump supporters breach the federal building to the former president's comments and whereabouts during the attack, our newsroom scrambled to sort fact from fiction in real time — and in the months after the historic day.

That was all aside from Joe Biden's presidential inauguration, an effort by Democrats to impeach Trump (again), an ongoing civil rights movement to call attention to police brutality, and scaremongering rumors about the effects of COVID-19 vaccinations. Pseudoscientific arguments circulated widely to discredit scientists’ work to develop what remains the leading solution to the pandemic, and we were inundated with readers' questions about how the inoculations actually impact humans' immune systems.

Then, over the summer, we met the COVID-19 variant delta. She seems to be sticking around with company (omicron).

No matter the topic at the center of our reporting in 2021, however, we filled a dire need for tools to help grow people's media literacy. Behind every Snopes rating is fact-based, explanatory journalism that relies on thoroughly vetted sources and context that other media outlets may omit.

We thank you for your support, and we look forward to more debunking in 2022 — maybe, just maybe, it’ll be a bit more “normal” than the last.


'COVID', 'Biden' & 'Ivermectin' Among Top Search Terms

Snopes readers have a nose for news — and an unquenchable thirst for getting to the bottom of misinformation on the internet. In 2021, readers searched nearly 8 million unique terms on the Snopes website, the leading among them being some iteration of “COVID-19” and some form of related “vaccines,” followed by “Biden,” “Fauci,” and “Trump.”

Snopes' Investigative Reporting

In a year rife with misinformation, the Snopes team went deep to get to the bottom of some of the internet’s most contested content. Among such stories published in 2021 were:

  • Dan Stock’s Speech to Mt. Vernon School Board Is Not Scientifically Credible
    You would be hard pressed to find a single sentence in Dr. Stock's speech on "​​the futility of mask mandates and COVID-19 protocols" that is not misleading or explicitly false.
  • About That Frank Shallenberger ‘Informed Vaccine Consent’ Post
    A post authored by a doctor that promotes the dubious "ozone therapy" falsely argues the coronavirus pandemic is over.
  • The ‘Occam’s Razor Argument’ Has Not Shifted in Favor of a COVID Lab Leak
    Proponents of the "COVID lab leak" theory that COVID-19 originated as a result of work performed at the Wuhan Institute of Virology keep repeating the same misinformation.
  • Did Controversial AZT Treatment Kill More Patients than AIDS in ’80s, ’90s?
    Commonly called AZT, azidothymidine was originally produced to treat cancer two decades prior to the HIV epidemic.
  • Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan, and the Nobel Prize Parable
    A popular tale claims that an act of kindness greatly impacted the lives of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan Macy.

    Person, Human, Drawing
    Image via Wikipedia
  • Was Thanksgiving Originally a Celebration of the Massacre of a Native American Tribe?
    The Pequot massacre of 1637 resulted in the deaths of several hundred indigenous people.
  • Fact Check: Ellie Kemper, the KKK, and the ‘Veiled Prophet Ball’
    The actor’s ties to a controversial St. Louis debutante ball were unearthed in a 1999 photograph.
  • Are These Rumors about Daunte Wright's Criminal Record True?
    We determined the legitimacy of accusations against the 20-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a white suburban Minneapolis police officer.

  • Most Read News Stories of 2021

    Ranked by popularity.

    1. Background Check: Investigating George Floyd’s Criminal Record
      The question of past arrests often surfaces among people who want to rationalize police officers' actions when Black men are killed in custody.
    2. What’s True and False About Kyle Rittenhouse’s Alleged Victims
      ​​Fans of the teenager launched an online campaign to smear the reputations of his victims.
    3. Did Bonne Maman Co. Shelter People During the Holocaust?
      As the story went, a woman reportedly told a grocery shopper that she always buys the Bonne Maman brand of preserves because she was a holocaust survivor, and that the founders of the company had protected her family during World War II.
    4. ‘National Rape Day’ Warnings Circulate on TikTok
      Whether you call it a joke, prank, troll campaign or a hoax, there is no "National Rape Day" that provides legal immunity for sexual assault.
    5. Geert Vanden Bossche Stokes Fear of COVID-19 Vaccine To Promote His Own Flawed ‘Solution’
      Anti-vaccine activists are promoting a veterinarian's claim that the only way to prevent a future COVID-19 vaccination-related calamity is through a product he claims to have invented.
    6. Amy Schumer Trucker Photo, Explained
      In June 2021, comedian Amy Schumer became a trending topic on Twitter after “Celina 52 Truck Stop” posted a photograph of a new “contest winner” who strongly resembled the actress.

      Image via Facebook / Celina 52 Truck Stop
  • Farmer’s Almanac Predicts ‘Season of Shivers’
    First published in 1792 when former U.S. President George Washington was in office, the reference guide is America’s oldest, continuously published periodical.
  • Watch ‘Space Mountain with the Lights On’ at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom
    "It's more scary with the lights on," read the TikTok comment with the most likes.

  • Most Viewed Fact Checks of 2021

    Ranked from highest number of views.

    1. Did Biden Poop His Pants in Rome?
      Another president, another pants pooping rumor. This time around, U.S. President Joe Biden was said to have pooped his pants during a meeting with Pope Francis.
    2. No, Trump Did Not Wear His Pants Backwards at Rally
      You asked, so we watched the 90-minute speech.
    3. Does Putting a Ziplock Bag Over a Car Mirror Have a Legitimate Purpose?
      Online advertisements promised what appeared to be a handy trick for drivers involving plastic Ziplock bags.

    4. Was Dr. Phil’s Divorce Settlement ‘Finally Revealed’ as $1M?
      An online advertisement that featured a picture of the famous therapist and his wife claimed to lead to details on a divorce settlement.
    5. Is a Testicular Blow Exponentially More Painful Than Childbirth?
      There are no real winners in this contest.
    6. Did Nike Partner with Lil Nas X on ‘Satan Shoes’ Containing Human Blood?
      The devil is always in the details. Although the shoes are Nikes, a Nike spokesperson told us the company has nothing to do with the creation or sale of the "Satan shoes."
    7. Did Rush Limbaugh’s ‘AIDS Update’ Mock the Deaths of Gay People?
      The radio host would later say he regretted the segment as it made fun of people who were dying excruciating deaths.
    8. Should an Empty Toilet Paper Roll or Red Cup Be Placed Under the Toilet Seat at Night?
      Online advertisements promised what appeared to be a handy bathroom trick.
    9. Did Man at Capitol Riot Die After Accidentally Tasing Himself?
      Five persons died in conjunction with the Capitol riot, but some reports surrounding their deaths weren’t entirely accurate.
    10. Did a ‘Convicted Terrorist’ Sit on the Board of a BLM Funding Body?
      The past crimes of Susan Rosenberg reemerged in the summer of 2020, amid a new wave of protests over racial injustice and police brutality.

    2021 in Fact Checks: Snopes' Staff Picks & Standouts

    All of these pages were published in 2021.

    Best of: 'I Did My Own Research'
    Usually code for 'I cherry-picked vaccine stats to confirm what I already believe.'

    Supposed Presidential Faux Pas
    Biden supposedly fell asleep on the job, fumbled quotes, or passed gas on the regular.
    Most Obviously Photoshopped
    One manipulated picture is worth a thousand words.
    Most Believable Fake Vid
    Digitally altered footage that almost fooled us at first watch.
    Craziest Critter
    The animal kingdom plus cell phone technology equaled numerous fact checks.
    Bathroom Readers
    Some of these claims didn’t pass the sniff test.
    Deepest Rabbit Hole
    Investigations into these rumors led us down some unusual paths.
    Can't Believe We Had To Check This
    All because Twitter was wilding out.
    Most Unexpectedly True
    Checks notes — yep, that actually happened.

    Image via Bull Runnings

    Honorable Mention
    Some claims were so bizarre that they’re uncategorizable.

    Image via Carter Center / Twitter


    Want something fact checked in 2022? Submit your misinformation leads and questions to Snopes, subscribe to our newsletters, and support us financially by becoming a member or making a direct contribution.

    Madison Dapcevich is a freelance contributor for Snopes.

    Jessica Lee is Snopes' Senior Assignments Editor with expertise in investigative storytelling, media literacy advocacy and digital audience engagement.