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How To Spot an Urban Legend

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An urban legend may be a story you hear by word of mouth or a text you receive by email or fax. All have certain features in common which can aid in identifying them as urban legends.
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Here's How:

  1. Consider the form of the information passed along to you. Is it a narrative — a story with a beginning, middle and end? Does it feature a surprising twist and/or end with a 'punch line' reminiscent of a joke? If so, it may be an urban legend.

  2. Urban legends usually toe a fine line between outlandishness and plausibility. Does the story seem a little suspect, yet believable? Was it told to you AS IF it's true? Often the teller of an urban legend will even begin with the statement, 'This is a true story...'

  3. Look for statements like 'This really happened to a friend of a friend' (or 'I heard this from the wife of a co-worker,' or 'You won't believe what happened to my brother's housekeeper's son,' etc.).

  4. Have you heard the same story more than once from different sources, possibly even with different names and details? If you've heard more than one version, it's probably an urban legend.

  5. Consider whether there's evidence to suggest the story you've heard is false, and/or there are commonsense reasons to disbelieve it.

  6. Does the story seem too good to be true; too horrible, or too funny to be true? If so, there's a good chance it's an urban legend and NOT true.

  7. Check books and Websites about urban legends to see if the story is listed there (see resources below).

  8. Research any factual claims in the story to see if there is published evidence to support them. The burden of proof is on the teller of the tale.

Tips:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, urban legends aren't always false. The key factor is that they are told AS IF true, though no supporting evidence is offered (apart from the solemn word of 'a friend of a friend').

  2. Email versions of urban legends tend to lose some of their story-like qualities, circulating in the form of warnings or alerts instead of personal anecdotes. But they are still urban legends.
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How to Spot an Urban Legend
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