Tracking Rumors on the Internet

New York Magazine reports that researchers at Columbia University have created a website that tracks Internet rumors. It’s called Emergent. The well-known Snopes site has been doing something similar for almost 20 years, but Emergent aims to provide more statistical information, showing how many times a rumor has been referenced online, and who has been spreading or debunking it. It also categorizes some rumors as neither true nor false, but “unverified”.

The only rumor I could find that both Emergent and Snopes deal with at the moment is the one about the Florida woman who had surgery to add a third breast. Snopes goes into great detail and concludes that the rumor is false. Emergent agrees that the rumor is false (even referencing Snopes), but doesn’t offer evidence. It merely links to sites that have reported the rumor or debunked it. Emergent, however, has nice graphics showing how the rumor has been trending and which references to the rumor have been shared the most. 

The New York Magazine article points out that rumors often spread because they confirm people’s pre-existing notions, while there is usually much less motivation to deny them. So sites like Emergent and Snopes are probably fighting a losing battle.

Nevertheless, the more truth there is on the Internet, the better. And having done my own very, very small part in spreading an occasional rumor, I will try to remember to check Snopes and Emergent before passing along juicy news that confirms my own cherished beliefs (unless it’s a really, really good one that just has to be true).

2 thoughts on “Tracking Rumors on the Internet

  1. Interesting. I pretty much reflexively check Snopes any time I see or hear a strange story that is claimed to be true, or google the story adding the word “skeptic” to see if any other skeptic resources have looked at it. (Unless it’s political, then it’s Factcheck or Politifact.) I’ll have to remember that Emergent is there.

    • I don’t think I’ve ever looked at Factcheck. I do remember Politifact getting in trouble a few times, because their assessment of the facts didn’t match other people’s (which no doubt goes with the territory). I see Politifact not only has classifications like True, Half True, Mostly False and False but also Pants on Fire. That’s a nice one! And very handy during political campaign season.

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