May 03, 2011

‎"Those MLK and Mark Twain quotes you're spreading on facebook and twitter are fake"

Gizmodo explains.

Fascinating classic "folklore" problem, vastly accelerated by the internets.


Jesse Walker finds this quite plausible source for the MLK misquotation:


UPDATE II: Megan McArdle has the full post-mortem on the MLK quotation here. Short version: it was indeed Jessica Dovey's innocent, correctly punctuated facebook post, assisted by a subsequent tweet by Penn Jillette, the condensing, punctuation-less effect of twitter, and a lot of sincere yet mistaken people seconding that emotion. The long version is worth reading though, because both the process and the psychology behind it is truly fascinating:

Fake quotations are pithier, more dramatic, more on point, than the things people usually say in real life. It's not surprising that they are often the survivors of the evolutionary battle for mindshare. One person actually posted a passage which integrated the fake quotation into the larger section of the book from which the original MLK words were drawn.

We become invested in these quotes because they say something important about us--and they let us feel that those emotions were shared by great figures in history. We naturally search for reasons that they could have said it--that they could have felt like us--rather than looking for reasons to disbelieve. If we'd put the same moving words in Hitler's mouth, everyone would have been a lot more skeptical. But while this might be a lesson about the need to be skeptical, I don't think there's anything stupid about wanting to be more like Dr. King.

Posted by Dr. Frank at May 3, 2011 04:10 PM | TrackBack