Debunking as Hobby, Entertainment, Scholarly Pursuit, and Public Service

  • William Aspray
  • James W. Cortada
Part of the History of Computing book series (HC)


The book so far has focused on only two kinds of activities involving scrutiny, urban legend debunking and political fact-checking. The main purpose of this chapter is to show that, in the period 1990–2015, there were a wider set of activities that are associated with scrutiny. Before turning to this main topic, the chapter examines the decade prior to the creation of the public Internet in the early 1990s and shows how urban legends were both spread and studies in pre-Internet technologies such as fax, bulletin boards, and proprietary online service providers such as America OnLine and Prodigy. The chapter then turns to the creation – beginning in the 1980s – of a new academic sub-discipline, the study of contemporary legends, primarily out of the disciplines of folklore studies and sociology. The focus is on one particular organization, the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research. The next section focuses on organizations such as Hoaxbusters, Scambusters, and VMyths, which were created as a public service to help individuals and organizations avoid computer viruses, chair letters, and Internet hoaxes through the use of appropriate scrutiny. The following section discusses entertainment. There are two types of entertainment considered here: one type are truth-or-fiction television shows such as Mythbusters and Unsolved Mysteries, which tell a narrative and then ask the audience to determine whether it is true or fake. The films, such as Candyman, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, either provided a full-length account of a single urban legend or offered up multiple urban legends in the same movie. The chapter concludes by pulling together these disparate events into a single coherent narrative involving scrutiny.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Aspray
    • 1
  • James W. Cortada
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Information ScienceUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Charles Babbage InstituteUniversity of MinnesotaMinneapolisUSA

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