Why Urban Legends Spread

In a short profile of David and Barbara Mikkelson–proprietors of urban legend reference Snopes–the two discuss how they have seen their site grow and what they have observed about the subset of society that visit and contact their site.

It’s an eminently quotable article of observations, questioning why urban legends spread the way they do. (The answer, as Ryan Sager states, is “People don’t much want to know the truth. They just want a story that amuses them, confirms their biases, or makes the world a more wondrous place”).

“Rumors are a great source of comfort for people,” Mrs. Mikkelson said. […]

“Especially in politics, most everything has infinite shades of gray to it, but people just want things to be true or false. […] In the larger sense, it’s people wanting confirmation of their world view.” […]

It is not just the naïveté of Web users that worries [Snopes’ fans and volunteers]. It is also what Mr. Mikkelson calls “a trend toward the opposite approach, hyper-skepticism.”

“People get an e-mail or a photograph and they spot one little thing that doesn’t look right, and they declare the whole thing fake,” he said. “That’s just as bad as being gullible in a lot of senses.” […]

“When you’re looking at truth versus gossip, truth doesn’t stand a chance.”