Abstract

Abstract:

The internet has become the predominant source of dissemination for dubious legends, ranging from medical misinformation to conspiracy theories and supernatural encounters. Building on previous work in this area, I examine contemporary legends as they are told and discussed in online forums. Drawing on Nancy Baym’s outline of the characteristics of the internet that distinguish it from other forms of communication, I analyze how the internet’s interactivity, temporal structure, social cues, storage, replicability, reach, and mobility affect the form and function of the legend process. I find that the internet subverts some of the traditional characteristics of the legend-telling process, but paradoxically, other characteristics of the internet actually reinforce or valorize traditional elements, while surprisingly, sometimes the internet has no effect at all even in areas where we might expect the most dramatic effects. These findings provide significant insights into the role the internet plays in today’s world where bizarre claims increasingly characterize everyday social and political life. They shed light on how the internet provides a window into our concerns while simultaneously exacerbating them.

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