This post didn’t start out this way. I didn’t plan to talk about what happened Sunday night. But it seemed ironic that as I was preparing quotes for this week’s installment of five great things some one else said, I found out a quote I had just posted was, in fact, not what it seemed. And so, there you go. You make plans and life goes and fusses with them.
I really didn’t know how to articulate how I was feeling on Sunday night, watching President Obama speak. Or while watching the crowds gathering on Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate. The next day, on twitter, I happened upon a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. that really seemed to say what I couldn’t. And so, I retweeted:
By Monday afternoon, I saw a more expanded version of the MLK, Jr. quote on the Facebook statuses of several friends. It was an extension of what I tweeted – far beyond the 140 character limit.
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
And by Monday night, I was reading that the quote wasn’t in fact by him at all. Which, in fact, is only partly true. (Details below.)
This was hardly the first time in this Information Age that I’ve read a quote, a graduation address, or a great speech falsely attributed to someone.
But on Monday it was crazy how quickly this semi-quote spread. And for some reason I thought of the movie Pump Up The Volume, which my friends and I spent the better part of seventh grade quoting religiously.
In a nutshell, Christian Slater plays a quiet high schooler by day, poetic pirate radio DJ by night. None of the high school kids know who the guy behind mike is, but they all worship him because he gives them a voice. If you haven’t seen it, add it to your queue. If only for the soundtrack. (I swear, this tangent is in fact going somewhere. Well, I hope it is.)
I kept thinking of a line from the film, one my friends and I would scribble on our binders and on the edges of notes passed during class: THE TRUTH IS A VIRUS. This said before the world went viral.
If the truth is a virus, then misinformation is like the antibiotic-resistant superbug of the Internet.
This whole MLK, Jr. misquote can be traced to the Facebook status of one woman whose words were lost in translation. (While I’m not sure she’s just thrilled her name is EVERYWHERE, I’m happy to know that the co-author of the tweet heard round the world is at least getting her proper attribution.)
(The editor in me wonders why journalists who quickly called this a fake quote didn’t use google books to at least do a quick ref check to dissect it before denouncing the whole thing. But, as is with the Internet, they posted first, then updated their original comments later.)
For a day and a half this quote was being tweeted and Facebook posted by some of the most snopes-savvy, Internet wary people I know. Why did we let our guard down?
I can only speak for myself. In that moment, those words so beautifully articulated what I felt. What I still feel. Words to express a situation that, fortunately, I don’t have a lot of experience with. Words that resonated with me then, as they do now. xo a.
And so, five great fact-checked things someone else said about truth:
The truth is rarely pure and never simple. – Oscar Wilde
Never assume the obvious truth is true. – William Safire
Always tell the truth…it’s the easiest thing to remember. – David Mamet
Truth is such a rare thing it is delightful to tell it. – Emily Dickinson
I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy. – Samuel Butler