Signs of an Urban Legend
Urban legends can range from the plausible to the absolutely ridiculous. However, in the age of the Internet, these stories can spread like wildfire and sow confusion and doubt amidst a sometimes gullible populace. If you spend much time surfing the Internet, it’s important to learn how to know if something is an urban legend.
What Is an Urban Legend?
Urban legends, also known as urban myths, are stories circulated by members of the public and thought to be true. In some cases, an element of truth may exist in the story, but it has been greatly exaggerated. In other cases, the entire story is false.
Urban myths often end up being circulated by email, and they can even find their way into legitimate news stories (which only serve to give the story more credibility). In many cases, the teller of the story relates that the supposed event happened to a “friend of a friend.”
Most of the time, these stories can never be tracked to a point of origin. In some cases, these stories seem to take on a life of their own and exist for decades. It’s gotten so bad that the U.S. Department of Energy has started a service called Hoaxbusters to look into various Internet hoaxes.
Popular Urban Legends
Here are some of the most popular urban legends. Don’t be embarrassed if you see one or more that you actually thought were true:
- Someone has a one night stand and then wakes up the next morning in a bathtub full of ice and minus a kidney, the victim of organ harvesters.
- Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen. In actuality, Disney was cremated following his death in 1966.
- The shakes at McDonalds are made from animal fat.
- Coca-Cola invented Santa Claus.
- Kentucky Fried Chicken changed their name to KFC because they thought using the word “fried” was bad for business.
- The Daddy Longlegs is the most poisonous spider, but its teeth cannot penetrate our skin.
- Snuff films exist for commercial purchase in which someone (usually a woman) is actually murdered on film.
- The flush toilet was invented by Thomas Crapper.
- Lemmings throw themselves from cliffs. This got started when a Disney film crew purposely herded a group of lemmings over a cliff in a 1958 documentary entitled White Wilderness.
- After receiving an act of kindness from a stranger, a Muslim warns the person to not drink Coca-Cola products after a certain date. This information is meant to save them from a terrorist attack. In other versions, the person is warned to stay away from a certain location. Not surprisingly, this urban legend began after the 9/11 attacks.
Spotting An Urban Legend
So how do you know an urban legend when you hear one? Just apply the following logic.
- Does the story sound familiar? If it does, it may be because you’ve heard it before (perhaps in a slightly different form).
- Is the person the event happened to a “friend of a friend”?
- Is the person telling the story known to lie and exaggerate? Are they prone to fall for practical jokes?
- Have you heard anything about this from a legitimate news source?
- Does the person telling you the story trust their source?
- If all else fails, visit Snopes.com, the unquestioned leader when it comes to sniffing out urban legends. If it’s not on their site, then it’s likely to be true. This is probably the best tip on how to know if something is an urban legend.