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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]

14 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t believe it would have spread like wildfire had there been a “malicious tone”. That’s what we learned today. People love and agree with and share this quote because it encourages the true path to peace. Prompting many to rethink their responses to Osama’s death. It spread because there is a revolution upon us, and we want peace!!

  2. So the opening quotes should be placed after the first sentence, which was probably written by the original poster as a prelude to the quote. I don’t think that makes the first sentence “a complete fake,” nor does it diminish the value of the sentiment to me.

  3. not all of the quote is false. Part of it is word for word and part is paraphrase. see MLK’s 1967 book.

    where do we go from here: chaos or community.

  4. I can almost bet that someone posted their sentiment about mourning the loss of thousands and then quoted MLK with the rest and someone else copied and pasted it and off it went! Pretty powerful and awesome. One person’s sentance took on so much meaning to so many people. I wonder if the original poster will step forward and take credit!! :)

  5. I can almost bet someone wrote their sentiment about yesterday’s event and then added the MLK quote to it… someone agreed and copied and pasted it or requoted it incorrectly and off it went! It’s pretty awesome how one person’s sentence held so much meaning for so many people. I wonder if the OP will come forward and claim it! :)

  6. @mmhmm

    I can almost bet that is exactly what they did. The posted their sentiment about yesterday’s event and then quoted MLK. Someone copied and pasted the entire thing and off it went! It’s pretty awesome how one persons sentence held so much meaning for so many people. I wonder if the OP will come forward and take credit!! :)

  7. Idc if this is “fake”. the beginning is a heart felt reaction to us now and the rest is what MLK Jr said word for word. Why does it matter….we need to remember where we came from and who changed our country with inspiration and love! We are no different in killing osamas family..we are no better or worse. We are human and just the same and Obama should be quoting MLK and recognize that justification of killing is what those terrorists use as well.

  8. @leah1130

    i think we are different. very different. Osama killed hundreds of thousands of INNOCENT people, family, servicemen/women, not only from the US but around the entire world. We can’t be so overly tolerant or desensitized to think that we should give the same respect to a noted EVIL terrorist, when he had no respect for human life whatsoever. If you choose not to react in an outward fashion or rejoice as some people were, that is fine. But don’t negate the fact that it was a necessity to rid this type of evil from the earth so that the U.S. and the rest of the world can be a safer place. We do need to be forgiving and humble and compassionate people, but there are times when one has to be eliminated instead of a whole nation or mass amounts of innocent people falling at the hands of a legitimate serial terrorist. I guarantee if some of your loved ones were lost in 9/11 or personally affected by his terrorism you would be singing a different tune. Don’t downplay the strength and courage of those special forces risking their life to end Osama’s tyranny by saying we shouldn’t have done it and we’re no better because of it. Shame on you, Freedom isn’t FREE ya know.

  9. @hnorth5 @leah1130 I agree 100% with hnorth5. Regardless of what “should” or “could” have been done does not change the fact of what NEEDED to be done. Imagine if this man had solely targeted your family, come to your house, and killed everyone you love or care about; then take a step back and realize that is exactly what he wanted to do. If the Seal team felt they needed to end his life it was for good reason. I would rather him die than a fellow service member just so he could waste more of our money, and bring shame to the families and friends that have lost so much because of him.

  10. @happyhasso Peace will only come when this life is over. If people continue thinking that peace is even possible it will cause more problems that it will solve. If people continue being ignorant to the true cost of the freedoms that Americans have we will lose them. It didn’t spread because there is a revolution and people want peace either. It spread because every true American felt that justice was done, and while happy still have humility to the fact that it was a human life regardless of who’s it was. This is a fundamental reason that America is so great. However, there are always those left wing crazies out there in both directions (good & bad) and that is the exact reason why there will never be peace. Those type of people will never be content until they have their way. e.i.. “we want peace” after a statement of “there is a revolution upon us” these two statements completely contradict each other.

  11. @marineosx @happyhasso Hi marine, I guess all the Iraq veterans against war are “crazy” and ridiculed by warmonger bullies. Here’s food for thought: http://on.fb.me/ldigCh -excerpts- “This phenomenon we are witnessing is actually a natural evolution. Anytime you organize human beings to come together to use violence as a way of conflict resolution you will have a break down of that organization. Peace is not a political process, and is certainly not a militaristic process.” “Our society runs on war, it runs on the domination of the other parts of the world. Literally, that’s the only way you can control a gigantic part of the globe. You have to keep everybody down. And that is what our society is based on as far as our globalization schematic that has been laid out by Republicans and Democrats and all these people pretending to be our leaders. None of these people have had these experiences. None of these people feel connected to everybody. They are still, even the best ones, are still operating within a very old old framework, and a framework that is set up by ignorance. It’s a foolish framework. The idea that it should be Ok to go somewhere and engage in war to protect a society that wants to go places and engage in war. That’s insane. That’s automatically saying that the lives of the people here are worth more than the lives of people everywhere else. And they are all one thing, they are all exactly the same.”

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