ChrisRonzoni, Editorials Editor
In today’s world, the news is our only way to learn and connect to the rest of society. It is our source of knowledge about what’s going on in other countries and our own. Yet the self-righteousness and selfishness of human politics has corrupted this very knowledge we rely on and trust to learn about our world. Big brand companies such as Fox News or Facebook are run by heavily biased bodies, reporting their views on world issues rather than what actually happened. Whether it’s big world news, such as the election, or small little rumors, such as the myth that you swallow eight spiders in your lifetime, the bots, corrupt politicians or simple internet trolls have more of a hold on what we believe than most even realize. Let’s further examine the twisted web a single person can weave.
Abraham Lincoln famously said: “If you’ve read it on the internet, it must be true,” a quote that most fun-fact YouTube channels seem to have taken to heart. But it is often difficult to know if the things that you read and view online are true or not. For example, some may have heard that “the average person annually swallows eight spiders in their sleep.” There are some variations of this claim many times before and it’s quite easily dismissible. One reason being that most household spiders are not exactly fond of wet and windy regions which is a perfect description of the human mouth. Furthermore, spiders are very sensitive to vibrations and while asleep we tend to move around, breath, snore, causing the spider to feel the equivalent of being in an earthquake. A humanquake?
Nevertheless, experts in both human and spider biology can attest to why spider munching in our sleep is highly improbable. But it did make me wonder: If the claim is so easily dismissible, how did it begin? And holy community guidelines did I discover a rabbit hole deeper than your favorite inspirational quote. Like most “fake news” claims, they can be easily dismissed but hard to ignore. So while digging for the origin of this claim, I started with a quick search. Google led me to an article on a website known as Snopes.com. Snopes is a website specializing in debunking urban legends and most people seem to agree that it is a quite reputable source. In the article they claim that the myth gained popularity in 1993 when a columnist by the name of Lisa Birgit Holst wrote an article titled “Reading is Believing” in a magazine known as “PC Professional”. She supposedly wrote the article, which included the eight-spiders myth, to demonstrate how people will believe anything they read online. They further claim that she took this myth from a book released in 1954 titled “Insect Fact and Folklore.” So, if Snopes is to be believed, the myth began with a book released in 1954. And to solidify this claim even further, you can find hundreds of articles and books telling the exact same story. Simple enough. Quite an interesting piece of trivia. Case closed. If it weren’t for the fact that I went to the library to check out the very book and found that it does not include any mention of swallowing spiders in your sleep. In fact, it would be a bit strange if it did as spiders are not insects, they are arthropods. Which is, a bit ironically, the only thing you will learn about spiders while reading this book.
This brought me back to Snopes’ article and went through the rest of their citations. Two are unrelated to the origins of the myth. Then they cite an article in a 1997 issue of the newspaper Chicago Sun-Times. After reading this article, it unfortunately doesn’t shed any light on the origins of the myth as the article only consists of a reader asking if this urban legend is true or not followed by an entomologist claiming that it is unlikely.
This leaves us with citation number 3. And this, this slice of heaven, is where we go off the deep end. A quick search reveals that I am not the first to investigate this source as most of the top results are that of other people looking for the exact same thing. As it turns out, no one has been able to find a columnist by the name of Lisa Brigit Holst nor has anyone been able to locate a computer magazine by the title of PC Professional. At least not in the United States. So perhaps the magazine was published in another country. Sure enough, the given, middle and surname is of European origins. Using various online archives, catalogs and indexes I was able to locate five different magazines with either a similar title or with the exact same title published in a language other than English. There’s a magazine from the UK with the title PC Pro. But the first issue was published in November of 1994. I also found a magazine with the exact title of PC Professional but it was unfortunately written in an unsophisticated and unintelligible language known as Danish. The first issue was also published in 1997. A Swedish magazine, also with the exact same title of PC Professional published a grand total of what appears to be two issues- one in 1992 and one in 1993. The last two publications, one from Italy and one from Germany, seem to be the most likely candidates. Both are titled PC Professional in their respective languages, had a readership in the hundreds of thousands and have released monthly issues since 1991.
At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that the German magazine must contain the article for two main reasons. First, the surname Holst is Danish and German in origin and thus a really common surname in Germany to this very day. Second, the magazine is the official German version of PC Magazine which is of the most popular PC-oriented magazines in the United States. In fact PC Mag has mentioned its German sister publication on numerous occasions. Upon reading the page in question (page 71 of the January issue in 1993), no Lisa Holst, no spidery misconception, no nothing. And if this is not it, I highly doubt this article exists. I began to wonder if Snopes had, for whatever reason, intentionally provided incorrect information.
I then quickly found a Reddit post demonstrating how the name “Lisa Brigit Holst” is an anagram for “This Is A Big Troll.” Unless we are to believe that this perfect anagram is just a random coincidence, it would mean that Snopes has written a meta article about a made-up columnist who once wrote a made-up article about people’s willingness to accept false claims as the truth in order to expose people’s willingness to accept false claims as the truth. A bit convoluted? Sure. But oh did they succeed. Almost every mention of this urban legend since has been accompanied by this supposed origin story which is of course presented as the truth. When it actuality it may be as mythical as the myth it is attempting to dispel.