The founder of the fact checking website Snopes lives in Tacoma
If you’ve ever asked the Internet a question like, “Is Tupac still alive?” or “Did an Indian woman gave birth to eleven baby boys all at once?” you’ve probably ended up at Snopes.com.
Snopes is a fact checking website that describes itself as a “well-regarded source for sorting out myths and rumors” and the founder and CEO lives right here in Tacoma. The nature of David Mikkelson’s job allows him to work from anywhere, so a couple years ago he moved from southern California to Tacoma to be closer to his wife’s family.
Snopes officially started in 1994 years before most of us even used the Internet.
“I happened to be working for a very large computer company in the late 1980s, which is kind of how I came to be connected to the Internet before most people had ever heard of the Internet,” said Mikkelson.
The website started out purely as a hobby, specifically focused on urban legends.
“Kind of like a Wikipedia that was only about urban legends and not everything in the world. But it kind of quickly took a left turn and became the place where anybody on the Internet, who encountered anything questionable, sent it along. ‘Hey! Is this real?’ And I ended up doing a whole bunch of things I never intended to be doing. Like politics.”
Snopes really got political after September 11th and even more so during the 2008 presidential election. It remains that way today. I asked Mikkelson if he still enjoys his job, which started off as a fun hobby researching things he was interested in and shifted into researching political conspiracy theories.
“Not so much. One, I am really pretty much apolitical, never had any involvement in politics at all. So not really my area of interest. And, of course, secondly, like with any enterprise, the bigger and more successful it gets, the more removed you become from doing what you wanted to be doing in the first place. I would rather not be spending large portions of my day dealing with accountants and lawyers and working with human resources but that’s what goes into running any kind of business.”
Until around 2013, David pretty much ran Snopes on his own, with help from his ex-wife. But now he has a staff of 16, half who work as fact checkers and half who have IT and business roles. They investigate the stories like any journalist would, by calling sources, researching online, it all depends on the item in question.
“We tackle whatever the most people are asking us about. We don’t impose our own judgement about whether it’s too obvious or unimportant or frivolous. We just do it. At times it’s often dismaying or disconcerting to see what people are interested in. It tends to be tragic events: school shootings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, political turmoil and upheaval.”
And what does Snopes mean?
“It comes from the works of William Faulkner. It was the surname of one of the several families and characters that he weaved into the short stories and novels. But it has nothing whatsoever to do with the nature and purpose of the site. It was just sort of short and catchy and distinctive. It worked out fortuitously that it ended up being like Amazon or Google where the name has nothing to do with the underlying service.”
The most clicked on article on Snopes right now is “Did President Trump Revoke Gun Background Checks for Mentally Ill People?” Snopes says this is “Mostly true.”