Too Good To Be True? It Usually Is.

The Web site is crowded with tales of the candidates in the presidential race.
The Web site is crowded with tales of the candidates in the presidential race.
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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 28, 2008

This election has been hard on all of our inboxes.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's (cut and pasted) head on a patriotically bikini'd bod? Sen. Barack Obama cluelessly chatting on a (Photoshopped) upside-down phone? Sen. John McCain identifying himself -- according to a totally mangled forward -- as a "war criminal"?

Gotta be fakes, all of them. Right?

Because why would a grown man hold a phone upside do-- well, then again, it wouldn't be the first time a politician was a doofus maximus. So maybe, just to be on the safe side. . . .

Which is why no inbox has had it harder in these last frenzied weeks than the one belonging to David and Barbara Mikkelson, the founders and sole researchers at urban legend mega-site Snopes.com.

The couple debunked each of the myths above, along with dozens more allegations ranging from the wacko (a claim that the Bible identifies Obama as the antichrist) to the wonko (a widely circulated comparison of the two candidates' tax plans).

Snopes receives 6.3 million site visits a month, according to media measurement company Quantcast, and about 600 e-mailed research requests a day from desperate voters who don't know What. To. Believe.

"Usually it's around 400," says Barbara, 49. "But, election season." She sighs.

"A lot of people don't realize," David, 48, says wearily, "that our site is just two people."

Working out of their living room.

And so the confused masses write. And writeandwriteandwrite. Not always about politics, though in recent weeks politics has dominated the site. Forget about Cokelore, forget about Glurge -- two classic Snopes categories. Currently Palin, Obama, Sen. Joe Biden and McCain, in that order, top the "Hottest 25 Legends," a compilation updated daily of the terms generating the most reader e-mails and user searches.

This confused and earnest quest for the truth is why the Mikkelsons refuse to classify any request as stupid. It's not about stupidity. It's about desperation. Studies have shown that people will believe anything that's repeated multiple times, which, in these days of mass e-mails, constitutes just about everything. It makes getting to the bottom of something a battle between our real desire for truth and the limits of our neurological makeup.


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