I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.
How many of you saw this quotation attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr., on at least a dozen people’s Facebook statuses earlier this week? After the news broke about the death of Osama bin Laden, this quote seemed to pop up everywhere, and its attribution to King no doubt increased its popularity.
The only problem is that King never said it. As it turns out, the above quotation came from . . . a 24-year-old grad student no one has ever heard of. The statement first appeared in conjunction with an authentic King quote, and in the process of being reposted and retweeted, the quotation marks got moved, and the entire thing was attributed to King.
Remember the stories of medieval monks putting a gloss on a text they were copying, and of later monks coming along and mistaking the gloss for the text, erroneously adding it to the original when they made their copies? Some of those additions hung around until the 20th century.
Or remember the Ronald Reagan speech from the early 1980s in which the speechwriter erroneously attributed a quote about “America being great because it is good” to Alexis de Tocqueville? That thing was endlessly recycled for years until some professor decided to scour Democracy in America for it, and came up empty.
Social media is great for spreading news quickly, but it can spread inaccuracies and misunderstandings just as rapidly. Word to the wise.