The Martin Luther King, Jr. quote circulating Twitter and Facebook with regards to Osama bin Laden's death was fake, but it wouldn't make any difference if you were hunting for the truth. Google would have only turned up hundreds of results that told you one thing:
He must have said it. (And if you "like" it, it must be even truer!)
The rest of the quote, "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," MLK Jr. actually did write in his book, "Strength to Love."
But the first, oddly a propos line? It was written by a girl named Jessica Dovey, who wrote it correctly, attributing MLK's words to him and hers to herself. The people who reposted it were the ones who started the status update version of the game of "telephone."
But—it's not about the quote.
It's not that I want to badger all of my Facebook friends who blindly reposted it or spend my entire morning stabbing everyone's status update with the butcher knife of truth, ranting about misinformation and social media sheep herds.
What bothers me is that most people didn't care—not before they posted to see if it was accurate, not that all Google results were clearly showing only one day of results, not even after I or someone else would write that it was inaccurate.
In our age of misinformation, compiled with the belief that the younger generation doesn't give a crap about real news and has a "majority rules" mindset—this is not ok. We've created technology that allows us to invent truth and base its worthiness on quantity—on the number of times it's retweeted, the number of people who "like" it, the amount of hits it gets.
We, as Ted Koppel puts it (originally in a Washington Post column, "The Case Against News We Can Choose," and also here), "are no longer a national audience receiving news from a handful of trusted gatekeepers; we’re now a million or more clusters of consumers, harvesting information from like-minded providers."
My friend Annie shared a kinder perspective: when people's emotions run high, logic and reason go out the door. No one bothered to check if Martin Luther King Jr. actually said he wouldn't rejoice in the death of even one man; it just resonated with people so deeply that they didn't care if he said it or not. The majority of Facebook and Twitter users agreed he said it—so he did.
Megan McArdle says it best in her article on The Atlantic's website:
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.TakuanSoho a reader who commented on McArdle's article, speaks from a psychological standpoint and calls it "cognitive dissonance on display," noting that people feel something they can't articulate, and so they latch onto a quote from someone they admire and use it as a rhetoric device to defend their belief in the sentiment.
I say: cheers to Jessica—for speaking her own mind.