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Writer Tries to Fact-Check Snopes, and Fails Epically

Updated on December 29, 2016
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Commentary

We live in the age of misinformation. There’s no way to deny it or to avoid it. As the Internet opens its users to a myriad of vital information, it has also exposed them to hyper-partisanship, ideological rants, and outright lies that some Internet sites offer. The situation has gotten so bad that even mainstream media outlets (print, broadcast and the Internet) have been affected by the misinformation propagated by numerous ideological and fake news sites.

To make matters worse, the surge of these faux news sites have attracted millions of consumers who are willing to digest anything that affirms their beliefs, and reject anything that challenges them. And in the midst of all this, fact-checking sites have come under fire for doing what they were supposed to do: fact-check stories and claims made on various websites.

Snopes.com is one of those respected fact-checking sites. Some may say it’s the granddaddy of all Internet fact-checking sites, considering it was one of the first. They started by investigating urban myths and rumors and later expanded into the fields of gossip, politics, sports, and other items commonly spread throughout social media and chat room forums.

For the most part, they’ve gained the respect of major newspapers and Internet news sites. Also, anyone who ever had a question about a story could utilize their services to get clarification on its validity.

screen shot  from Snopes.com of various categories covered under fact-checking site.
screen shot from Snopes.com of various categories covered under fact-checking site. | Source

However, being good at your job also means you’ll gain enemies. And over the last few years, the people behind the site have been subjected to condemnation by writers and editors of various outlets. Even writers on this site, Hubpages.com, have taken notice and have attempted to ridicule them in every way imaginable.

Recently, a disgruntled Hubber (who will be known as the Writer throughout the article) wrote an article claiming that Snopes.com was biased and unreliable. She based it on what she claimed was “research” and submitted examples of what she believed were of stories “they got wrong.”

She intimated that Snopes had hidden nefarious intentions. Were they covering up for government officials? Were they protecting liberal policies? Or were they trying to interject their “liberal” bias in their stories? These seem to be the questions she wanted desperately to answer as “yes”.

But, in doing so, she may have exposed her own bias in an article that erred in many ways. She made bold claims, but backed it with questionable sources that backed her own political beliefs. On top of that, she tied it up in an article that sounded more like a rant rather than a well researched story.

In understanding where she got it wrong, one has to look at the organization of her article, her claims and the method of research (if she really used any) she used. But, be forewarned. The path to proving her wrong was tedious, considering all the twist and turns this article took (and by tedious, I mean four pages of notes on claims she got wrong).

The Article's Appearance

Let’s start off with the article at a glance: it seems to deliver on the promise that research has been done. Although there are no links to other sites (at least not until the very end of the article), there are several references to news sites, blogs and videos streaming sites. This bodes well for her argument.

However, when one starts to peruse it, the seemingly solid evidence suddenly looks very porous.

To be frank, the article is not an easy read. Although the Writer claimed that the article was to be based on her “findings,” her personal opinions invaded every sentence and paragraph. There’s no doubt she has a lot of disdain for the fact-checking site and it showed with every accusation. Eventually, the article devolved into an angry rant that was barely comprehensible. This was not objective reporting at its finest.

The Research

As mentioned, the Writer wanted to make clear she researched Snopes in order to come to her conclusion. However, the research was critically flawed. Much of the information on Snopes and its founders were outdated, cherry-picked, or simply wrong (something that will be pointed out later in the article). The sites and blogs she used to support her finding were notoriously unreliable, and video segments were either vague or came from conspiracy theory sites that have been debunked by (you guessed it) Snopes, The Skeptics Dictionary, Rationalwiki and other fact-checking and “skeptics” sites.

There are samples included, too. In this case, three stories covered (and debunked) by Snopes were used. Again, her opinions make their way into these stories. And how she does it left a lot to the imagination.

Examining The Claims with Realities

As mentioned, collecting her claims and verifying them was exhausting. She packed a lot in one article. This included three stories supposedly published on Snopes. Also, she made some accusations against the creators of the site, David and Barbara Mekkelson, which included such” important” topics such as where they came from and what their supposed intent for the site was.

So how do these claims stack up against reality? Well, let’s take a look:

Claim #1: The Mekkelsons are the only ones that run the site, are in it to make money, and operate out of San Fernando Valley.

Reality: It’s true that a husband and wife team started Snopes; however, they aren’t the only reporters on the sites. They’ve employed others. In fact, all one has to do is look at the bylines of the stories on their site and notice that there are different names.

Other information about the two is outdated. Recently, the British news service, The Guardian, interviewed David Mekkelson: Here’s what they discovered:

1. David Mekkelson still owns and operates Snopes; however, his wife, Barbara, stopped contributing to the site several years ago.

2. They now live in Calabasas. Although not far from Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and located in a rustic community between the Santa Monica Mountains and the outlying hills to the valley, it is far from being in the boonies (the writer made a comment in a forum that they came from some “hick” place. And when corrected that they came from San Fernando Valley, she seemingly didn’t understand or realize that it’s part of the city of Los Angeles and has more than a million people living there).

Now, let’s look at the part of this claim that they were in it to “make money”; this was vague. She never gave an explanation why she implied this and why this was a bad thing. Also, why was this different from other sites out there? Also, is it wrong to make money off such sites?

One can only speculate what she meant by that statement. The best evidence for what she was implying (or trying to) came from a video she attached near the bottom of the article entitled: Snopes is a Hoax. In it, the narrator claimed that the founders admitted their site was a hoax and that it was a money-making scheme based on the use of a discontinued software from Microsoft. The information is sketchy, at best and there’s no evidence that David admitted that Snopes was a hoax. Also, little is known about Frontview.org – the distributor (and possibly creator) of the video, except that their other offerings were conspiracy theories centering on the tech world.

If fact-checking sites examined this they would have labeled it “unproven” or “not verified”. Better yet, it doesn’t add any credence to the Writer’s claim.

Source

Claim #2: Snopes has a liberal bias

Reality: If the writer happened to have visited the Snopes website she may have seen various stories to click on. One story was titled: “Did Donald Trump Say that Republicans are Dumb?” If she clicked on the title and opened the story she would have seen – in big red letters – the word “False”.

There’s another story about Ted Nugent, the conservative and outspoken rocker. This story pertained to what he did to earn a deferment from being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. He supposedly used drugs, didn’t shower or change his pants (in which he defecated into). They labeled the story “Unproven”.

Even Fact Check.org checked out this allegation and discovered that every story – whether dealing with liberals or conservative personalities or agendas were given the same treatment (or as they called, straight poker-faced).

It’s true that most of the fact-checking has been done on conservative politicians and right-wing news sites; however, this is due to the fact that there more of them out there on the Internet actively spreading their messages.

On top of that, The Guardian interview revealed that David – who has stated in the past that he is non-partisan and has not endorsed anyone for public office – was baffled by a slew of angry e-mails from people accusing him of being biased.

The information given here is not to state that David is unbiased. There’s no concrete evidence of that, just as there’s no concrete evidence on the contrary that he is. Again, the liberal bias claim come from the Writer is based on several questionable blogs and news websites she used in her “research.”

She made phone calls to the primary source. In the age of Internet writing, this is actually becoming a dying art

Claim #3: They Google all their research

Reality: First, they are a website and look into rumors and claims that are exchanged on blogs, news outlets, and social media sites. Second, the use of Google is only one tool they use. And finally, if the writer actually read any of their articles closely, she’d realize that they make phone calls to people involved in certain stories, use Internet tools to verify the date and/or authenticity of photos (since many of the claims they look at either based on photos, videos, or memes). In fact, in several articles – including one that the Writer uses (more on that later) – the Snopes reporter stated that she made a phone call to an official involved in the story. Let’s repeat that one more time: She made phone calls to the primary source. In the age of Internet writing, this is actually becoming a dying art.

Source

Claim #4: A picture of the Mekkelsons definitively reveals that the two are pranksters (with other choice being hucksters)

Realty: This was a turn for the bizarre. How does a picture taken for NPR (National Public Radio) online news outlet become a smoking gun? Did David’s grin or the image of Barbara laughing reveal their true intent? Or maybe it’s the cat that photo-bombed it? There was something there that the Writer saw, but she never elaborated on it.

And now, for the most controversial claim.

Claim #5: The writer claims “Snopes doesn’t Think anal and/or oral penetration” of a 5-year-old is rape.

Reality: This is an absolute lie! There are multiple levels of falsehood in this statement. First off, no one connected with Snopes – including David Mekkelson -- ever uttered this as an opinion. Second, it is a horrendously misconstrued -- and manipulated – statement derived from a comment made by a Twin Falls, Idaho prosecutor that had been interviewed by a Snopes reporter. And, finally, this particular false quote may have come from a Breitbart.com article that was written by right-wing pundit, Pam Gellar (and if that name sounds familiar, she was the one who hosted a competition to draw Muhammad, which drew the ire of two would-be terrorists).

The story in question – which occurred in early June 2016 -- involved an incident in Twin Falls Idaho, in which three “Middle Eastern boys” were involved in a situation with a 5-year-old girl that may have involved “contact of a sensitive nature."

Although the prosecutor stated in the interview that this was not a rape case, rumors around town (and possibly fueled by a conspiracy theory Internet site) spread that the boys were Syrian Refugees (actually one was Iraqi and the other was a Sudanese) that had sexually assaulted the girl at knife point.

Due to the fact that everyone involved in the incident were minors, the case was sealed. This didn’t sit well with residents who believed that local government was trying to protect the supposed newly placed “Syrian refugees”.

The involvement of the unhinged site conspiracy site InfoWars, Breitbart.com and Gellar (an ardent anti-Muslim activist) made matters worse. As of this writing, this is still an ongoing situation, despite the case being sealed.

This story also represents a new low for the Writer of the “research” into Snopes. In fact, the rest of the article fell apart after that moment. And, most importantly it destroyed the Writer’s fragile credibility on this matter.

“There were no Syrians involved, there was no knife involved, there was no gang-rape,”

— Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loab June 2016

Other Claims

In truth there was really no need to go beyond this blatant lie. As mentioned, what was left of the article’s fragile structure and argument came crashing down. Sure, there were other claims such as a reporter from Health Nut News that felt slighted by Snopes and a video from InfoWars, but it really didn’t matter. The rest of the article was too convoluted to read as she mentioned people with their names doing or complaining about something. One can only surmise she was referring to the series of videos she posted near the end of the article.

Did She Do Any Real Research?

The Writer constantly wanted to remind the readers that she did her research to expose Snopes as an unworthy and politically biased site. However, in her attempt to do this she used sites that were ideologically slanted. The Twin Falls story was reported by local media, but a quick glance at Google revealed that nearly all the sites, if not all, that were giving coverage on the story were right-wing leaning publications. Even the white supremacy site, StormFront got involved. After all, this story was being connected to the Syrian refugee crisis and the possible placement of those refugees throughout the United States.

Most importantly, however, there was one link – and vital information – missing; there appeared to be no evidence that Writer actually visited Snopes, at all. She never commented on the web site’s structure its methodology of ranking stories, or what was actually reported on the Twin Falls incident.

Instead, she borrowed heavily from Breitbart.com and Gellar’s “research” to make her case. And in many ways, she revealed her own bias for what she considered to be “news.”

Final Thoughts

Surprisingly, if the writer really wanted compelling evidence, she could’ve done better research than what she did. In doing so she may have discovered one of two false stories on the site (something that David did admit to it, just in case people didn’t catch on to the numerous “Easter Eggs” or clues purposely inserted to reveal its invalidation). The stories were meant to be a warning to readers to always be wary of what they read and to always be skeptical.

While Snopes is usually a great source for fact-checking rumors, chain e-mails, memes and other questionable news stories, they aren’t the only ones.

Incredibly, the writer of the article never got that far in her research. She had pre-conceived notions, used material she believed was genuine – as well as affirmed her own bias, and allowed her unmitigated anger to control the ebb and flow of her writing to turn it into a rambling wreck.

Misinformation is widespread on the World Wide Web. But ultimately it’s the job of the readers to find and assess the information for its validity. Unfortunately, the writer didn’t realize this: she was too busy looking for affirmation, rather than information.

Screen shot of Snopes rating system.
Screen shot of Snopes rating system. | Source

The Writer Should Have Used this Tutorial

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    • sparkster profile image

      Marc Hubs 8 months ago from United Kingdom

      Already looked into this myself and published articles about. It's a disinformation website that spies on you. I'm not going to visit the Snopes website but it clearly states on one of their pages that you give them permission to spy on and video record your entire internet activity once you've visited the website. Once you've visited the site it's too late. Already experienced that several times myself too.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
      Author

      Dean Traylor 8 months ago from Southern California

      Are you sure you went the right site? I've never seen anything about asking permission to "spy" on you. If that's the case you may have had a malware attached to an ad. One general complaint Ive heard from many bloggers is that they have little control which ads are attached to their sites.

    • peoplepower73 profile image

      Mike Russo 8 months ago from Placentia California

      Thank you for this article. I have relatives who are ultra conservative and they have stated, they don't care about Snopes', Fact Check, Politifact, or any other site's claims. They simply don't want to believe those sites. I believe if they accept any of those claims, their value and belief systems will come crashing down like a house of cards and they can't handle that.

      An example was when Bernie Sanders was competing against Hillary, they said, "he was a Communist." I said where did you hear that and all they could do was raise up their hands in gesture that looked like I don't know. But I knew, they had heard it on Fox News. When I tried to give reason as to why he wasn't, they told me, they wouldn't listen because I'm always right. One of them even stuck her fingers in her ears and started singing la, la, la, la. She also stated that her parents were Republican and she will be a Republican until the day she dies. It matters not to her that the republican party has changed from her parents time.

      This is the mentality that we have to deal with that won't accept the facts. Thanks again for your article. I really like the format and organization.

    • NateB11 profile image

      Nathan Bernardo 8 months ago from California, United States of America

      I like your breakdown here, very thorough. I had doubts about the article in question when I read it, for many of the reasons you point out, plus you had much more info that you obviously researched.

    • sparkster profile image

      Marc Hubs 8 months ago from United Kingdom

      Definitely not ads or malware. I tested it, I researched it and I got involved too deep. It's not run by the Mikkelson's. That's all I can say.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 months ago from North America

      I was friends with a person in 2007 - 2008 who was part of a GOP Meetup that was a sub-sector of the local GOP county group. I visited a few events in curiosity. I witnessed the group plan an attack via the Internet, email, and word-of-mouth against SnopesDOTcom because the site "would hurt the Republican party." They planned to use real information, misinformation, disinformation, straw man attacks/etc., and lies. They also denigrated Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and the working class.

      I was surprised, disgusted, and more glad than ever that I had chosen long ago to be an Independent. When I received unwanted emails (some pretty vicious) from the former friend and the GOP group, I reported each one to the Internet Provider. A few email accounts were disabled over this.

      I hope the actions of this smaller group do not reflect the larger GOP.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 8 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Snopes is just one of many fact finding sites to go to for the truth. No one site is going to be 100% correct, 100% of the time.

      We must really do due diligence and keep searching for ALL of the facts and figures!

    • Dean Traylor profile image
      Author

      Dean Traylor 8 months ago from Southern California

      Wow, where do I begin? First thank you all for responding and some insight into matter. @peoplepower73 and Patty Inglish : I've heard and witnessed such encounters. I think one of the tough underlying issue is that people will hold steadfast to their ideological belief to the point they are not flexible enough to hear views or facts that counter their views. This is a dangerous thing that so many of these people choose stories to spread without fact-checking it.

      @Nate 11: thank you for the comment. It was not easy to read that other article and try to keep my response under 3000 words. I felt there was so many wrong with her analysis that could've written a book on it.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
      Author

      Dean Traylor 8 months ago from Southern California

      To spakster: I don't know to say. In the nearly twenty years I've known and visited the site I never heard or seen anything remotely close to spying by the site. If you have the evidence, you may consider writing a hub on the topic.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
      Author

      Dean Traylor 8 months ago from Southern California

      To Austinstar: spot on. When writing stories or seeking clarification, I don't rely one site. Being a skeptic , you tend to look at a myriad of sites, both the good and bad one. I established this hub as a commentary on the other article because of all the errors and misleading information. And the realization she was being biased while accusing Snopes of being biased. I don't she figured out the irony, yet. Btw I noticed she's still holding steadfast to the rape story as Breitbart reported it.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 8 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Faith Reaper just posted on her hub - "the CEO of Snopes was arrested for fraud and corruption" and I ran a google search and found SEVEN sites in less than a second that said it was a hoax.

      So we know how little research these people actually do before spreading their conspiracy theories.

      They have a huge difficulty in distinguishing fact from fiction and truth from lies.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 8 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Yes, that rape story has been blown up by all the right wing anti-refugee immigration people.

      The fact is that the accused are all juveniles and their records are sealed, so not true facts are available. They are spreading hearsay by a very biased group.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
      Author

      Dean Traylor 8 months ago from Southern California

      I've seen that article before. The most telling part is that it uses a horrible photoshopped pic of David being taken away in handcuffs. This reminds me of the forum question about the DNC Flag nonsense. She (our Writer) was confronted with overwhelming evidence from others, yet chose to ignore or alter her perception so she can be "right". I wouldn't be surprised her article was her vengeance to everyone who said her observation was flawed (some people posted links to Snopes). On top of that she claimed there was Palestinian flags . Her proof was an unprofessional doctored photo.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 8 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      You can lead people to the facts, but you can't make them accept them. Once their mind is closed, that's the end of that.

      I have given up on trying to understand why so many people listen to Trump and say, "It's like he's reading my mind! He says exactly what I am thinking!"

      It just doesn't occur to them that they are thinking erratically, without facts or logic, or are thinking with a completely biased and bigoted mind.

      Trump really could shoot someone on the streets of NY and they would still see him as a demigod.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
      Author

      Dean Traylor 8 months ago from Southern California

      Here's a new one: a "news" site called world daily is trying to revive the birther thing. The hilarious part is that it links to a Snopes article that proclaimed that a birth certificate that shows Obama is foreign born was a fake. World Daily ( not be confused the equally unhinged WND) Is using it as PROOF that Obama is foreign born....talking about defeating your own purpose. I can only hope it's a satirical news site.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 8 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      There is something wrong with being unable to accept facts. It's called being delusional.

      A delusional brain is wired differently or something. I'm convinced of it. I think it may be akin to dyslexia.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
      Author

      Dean Traylor 8 months ago from Southern California

      It's not that they are are unable, it's that they are denying because it doesn't fit their paradigm for life, politics, etc...I think you-know-who wants to be seen as the smartest lady in the place. And she does so by believing she found information that nobody else knows... and it happened to fit her political belief. The truth she seeks is a fanciful lie (in part because she feels we beat her over the head with the Snopes thing, so now she's going to beat us over the head with her "facts" as if it's going to change our way of thinking...I guess).

      Anyway, she's still spouting off eroding her own credibility without realizing it. One day she will have to face that truth she holds dearly and realize it's not.

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 8 months ago from Southern Georgia

      You guys realize of course you can get into a lot of trouble around here telling the truth about idiots, dontcha? Look at what happened to me, censored for similar truths. LOL! Love the hub, Dean!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 8 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Randy....HUH??? You mean there's actually more trouble I can get into than I have thus far? Holy Snopes, Batman! I don't know if I should believe you. I'm checking this out online. Know of any sites that give unabashed, unbiased, 100% fact-checked, certified, redefined, glorified, TRUTH.....so to speak?

      Dean....good job. Thumbs up....Over and Out. Paula

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 8 months ago from Southern Georgia

      Yes Paula, simply ask me what the truth is. I've never told a lie in my life! :P

    • sparkster profile image

      Marc Hubs 8 months ago from United Kingdom

      Each to their own opinions and perceptions, although I have indeed written about Snopes before and have a section on it in my upcoming book. Regard the website however you will, that's everybody's own choice. There is, however, plenty of "debunking" information on the website which can easily be proven to be incorrect.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 8 months ago

      Thank you, Dean for writing this article. You spent a lot of time and research as well as writing this. As a professional journalist, I salute you. I read the comments, too, and really have no more to add except a comment on the writer. She used to be a well-respected member of HubPages community and I followed her religiously. I can't help but wonder what happened to her to build up so much anger. I wish she would take a good look at herself and back off. Notice that she has just put up a new crackpot forum, and I can no longer enter into her discussions. Thanks for the follow, BTW. I will certainly follow someone as fair as you in return.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 8 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I too thought JL was an older hubber. I wonder what caused her to become so attuned to conspiracy theories? I no longer go to the forums. got a permanent ban for some silly reason. Same for Q&A - some troll took it upon himself (wildbill) to continue reporting me for some phrase or another and therefore is quite proud of himself for getting me banned. He probably did the same on my forum posts. But I have my own website, so who cares?

    • profile image

      Nudely 8 months ago

      C'mon, everyone knows it was a SnopesAir jet that hit the south tower...

    • Dean Traylor profile image
      Author

      Dean Traylor 8 months ago from Southern California

      Nudely, I don't joke about that. My sister was doing her residency in Brooklyn. Although she had that day off she was called in because it was believed her hospital was going to get an influx of injured people. That didn't happen. You either escaped unscathed or died. Later she volunteered for assisting search and rescue . It quickly became a retrieval. And to be more precise, body parts retrieval. On top of that she had to run when a building tattered by the towers collapse suddenly fell. So, let's just say the joke was inappropriate.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 8 months ago from Somewhere in the universe

      The joke of the Republicans, and namely Rudy Giuliani, trying to blame Obama and Hillary for the 9-11 incident, and resulting war in Iraq, and the creation of ISIS is what is NOT funny.

      I just do not understand how the ignorant right wing can continue to spread these ridiculous lies and get away with it. They are constantly berating Hillary and Obama for the crimes that they themselves engaged in.

    • profile image

      Nudely 8 months ago

      Dean, so sorry you took offense at essentially nothing. My "quip" doesn't belittle or impugn the reputations of the victims, it doesn't imply that 9-11 wasn't a tragedy, etc... it merely makes an absurd assertion in the style of someone instigating an urban legend, with the ironic twist of having the legend debunkers infused into the story. I can, however, direct you to a site full of 9-11 "jokes" which are crass and pitifully tasteless attempts at humor. (I won't insult you with a link.) There, however, you will find a treasure trove of "inappropriate."

    • Sychophantastic profile image

      Sychophantastic 6 months ago

      Dean, thank you so much for this article! If you hadn't done this, I would have! The basic issue is the people making this claim don't understand the difference between primary and secondary sources. Snopes uses primary sources. The Twin Fall article mentioned as being a lie - the writer didn't even understand what she was talking about. Alarmingly stupid!

    • TIMETRAVELER2 profile image

      TIMETRAVELER2 5 months ago

      What a great article! Thank you! I am so very, very tired of those people who research nothing, listen to or read trash and then post it...and when you "snopes" them, they come back with the garbage you just discussed. I'm bookmarking this article to use next time someone does this, even though I doubt it will matter to him or her. The dumbing down of America is clearly evident via this type of behavior. I find it disgusting, to say the very least.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 months ago from Philippines

      I've always known that Snopes is reliable, but you explain very clearly why it is, and how far it goes to confirm information. What was particularly riveting was your description of Writer, and the flawed sites Writer depends on. This is a phenomenon that has arisen with the digital world. Either people don't know how to determine a credible site from a noncredible site, or don't want to, or think everything is credible. This is so different from the time when all we had were newspapers and magazines. I feel like pulling out your description of Writer and showing it to the world, because even on Facebook you see people putting up stories from highly unreliable, even fake websites and newsites. And what has surfaced, too, with the web is a "silent sector" that suddenly has a forum to say anything they want without having to verify whether or not what they say is true. Your article is very revealing on many levels.

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