How a Fake MLK Jr. Quote Took the Internet by Storm

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” Chances are, you’ve seen this quote, attributed to Martin Luther King Jr., at least once on Twitter or Facebook. Perfectly capturing the feelings of many who felt somewhat conflicted about the images of Americans celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden, this quote sadly doesn’t appear anywhere in the works of Martin Luther King Jr. – it did, however, quickly make the rounds on virtually every social media service, starting, it seems, on Facebook and quickly spreading to Twitter, Tumblr and other sites.

On Twitter, you will only find the first sentence as quoted above. On sites that allow longer texts, this version appears:

“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.

Everything but the first sentence is indeed by King and can be found in Strength to Love. That first sentence, though, is a complete fake.

It first appeared on Twitter early this morning and thanks to prominent retweets from Penn Jillette (since retracted), the band Sonic Youth and many others, quickly became one of the most often retweeted quotes of the day (this is the earliest appearance on Twitter I was able to track down).

Are Real-Time Corrections Impossible?

Retractions and corrections on real-time social services like Twitter are nearly impossible. As is so often the case, the great Internet fact-checking machine is already in full swing, with discussions on Reddit and numerous blogs. That, however, will do little to reach all of those who retweeted this fake quote today. Indeed, this fake quote will likely become part of the MLK Jr. canon soon. While many will post about how this quote is fake, these stories will only reach a minority of those who read it today. Instead, it’s still being retweeted a few times per minute and continues to appear on new blog posts and Facebook status updates. On Twitter and similar social sites, the fact that something has been retweeted a few times already lends credence to a story – sadly, the Internet hive mind isn’t quite as connected as it often appears.

In this case, it’s quite harmless – in other cases, however, a story like this (maybe with a more malicious tone) could seriously damage somebody’s reputation.

[via: Atlantic Online]