The Urban Legend Combat Kit
Interested in learning how to debunk Internet urban legends on your own? One of the best urban-legend-squishing tools available is a "bookmarklet" that automatically searches Barbara and David Mikkelson's Urban Legends Reference Pages at snopes.com.
Bookmarklets are amazing Web browser links that let you use a search engine's database without actually visiting that search engine's Web site. The best example of a bookmarklet is Google's free browser buttons. What most people don't know is that you can easily create your own bookmarklets for practically ANY search engine you can think of ... including snopes.com. Here's how.
Creating an Urban Legend Search Bookmarklet
If you use Internet Explorer go to View > Toolbars and make sure that there is a checkmark next to "Links." If you use Netscape go to View > Show and make sure that there is a checkmark next to "Personal Toolbar." If you use AOL, minimize AOL, launch Internet Explorer (Start > Programs > Internet Explorer), go to View > Toolbars, and make sure that there is a checkmark next to "Links.".
|View > Toolbars in Internet Explorer||View > Show in Netscape|
Then, point your browser to http://www.bookmarklets.com/mk.phtml
Sort of in the middle of this page you'll see a blue "Make Search Bookmarklet" link. This is the hardest part (and this really isn't all that hard): click and hold on the link, drag it up to your browser's Links bar or Personal Toolbar, and let go. Internet Explorer may give you a warning that you are adding a link that is unsafe. Ignore that. This is perfectly safe.
Dragging and Dropping the Make Search Bookmarklet Link in IE
Once you add the "Make Search Bookmarklet" link to your browser's Links bar or Personal Toolbar, head on over to the Urban Legends Reference Pages search engine page at http://www.snopes.com/info/search and search for anything that comes to mind. For example, the "Klingerman Virus" hoax has popped its head up again in the past couple of weeks, so you might want to search for the word klingerman. No matter what you search for, WRITE DOWN ON A PIECE OF PAPER THE EXACT KEYWORD(S) YOU USE. This will come in handy in a moment.
Once you have entered your keyword(s) and either clicked on the grey "Search" button or pressed enter on your keyboard, the Urban Legends Reference Pages search engine will show you all of the pages in its database that contain your keyword(s). Pretty standard stuff.
Here is where things get a little un-standard. DON'T CLICK ON ANY OF THE LINKS ON THIS PAGE. Instead, click on that "Make Search Bookmarklet" link you dragged and dropped just a few minutes ago.
This automatically takes you to a page that has four textboxes. Ignore the first textbox -- it's just the URL of the page that resulted from your search. In the second textbox type in the exact keyword(s) that you searched for, the word(s) that I asked you to write down on a piece of paper. Ignore the third textbox, and in the fourth textbox type in a name for this new bookmarklet. I'd suggest something like "Urban Legend Search" or "Search Snopes.com." Finally, click on the grey "Submit" button.
The Make Search Bookmarklet Tool Page in IE
Eventually you'll be taken to a new page that shows you your new search bookmarklet. Click and hold on this link, drag it up to your browser's Links bar or Personal Toolbar, and let go.
Dragging and Dropping the Urban Legend Search Bookmarklet
Using Your New Urban Legend Search Bookmarklet
Okay, so what have you just done? You just created a way for you to automatically search the Urban Legends Reference Pages by simply clicking on a link on browser's Links bar or Personal Toolbar!
Click on the new bookmarklet that you just created -- not the "Make Search Bookmarklet" one but the urban legend search one -- and up pops a textbox. Key in any search term you want and then press enter.
Urban Legend Search Textbox in IE
How to Debunk Urban Legends
Now that you have a bookmarklet that automatically searches the Urban Legends Reference Pages, let's see how you can use this bookmarklet to debunk some urban legends.
When a friend or colleague sends you an email that you want to research, fire up your Web browser, click on your urban legends search bookmarklet, type in a keyword or two from the email in question, and hit enter. With relatively few exceptions, this search will result in at least one page that either supports or refutes the email in question. For example, when someone sends *me* an urban legend, here is what I do:
I use my urban legend bookmarklet to search for a page at snopes.com that either supports or refutes that urban legend.
I then copy the URL of the page that either supports or refutes that urban legend and then paste that URL into a semi-personalized canned reply.
You're certainly free to steal my canned reply if you want:
Thank you for your email.
The story you just sent me is a well-known urban legend. You can read more about this urban legend at [insert appropriate URL here]
By the way, I'll let you in on a little secret. When people ask me if a particular email is true, I usually just hop on over to http://www.snopes.com/info/search/search.htm and type in a few keywords from the email in question. This site is a free search engine for urban legends, and I use it all the time. :)
Okay, so that last part is a lie. I don't actually use the snopes.com search engine page, I use a bookmarklet instead. They don't need to know that.
I hope this helps!
Copyright © 2014 Patrick Crispen. Contents licensed to the public under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license. All other rights reserved.