A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went viral yesterday following the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. While many chanted “USA” in the streets, others seemed disturbed that some people were celebrating Osama’s death. The quote that most people saw in response to this was:
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” – Martin Luther King, Jr
It turns out, that these are not actually MLK’s words. The Atlantic did some digging and could find no place where King either spoke or wrote these words. Real or not, the quote blew up across the social web with no credit going to the individual who wrote it, which begs the question as to why anyone would do such a thing.
What actually happened is that the original update containing these words, first appearing on Facebook, was Twitterized. On Facebook, many people saw this instead:
I will 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.
All but the first sentence here is from King’s book, Strength to Love. The first sentence was written by a Facebook user name Jessica Dovey. She posted the update and added on the MLK Quote, but someone later modified the post and removed the quotation marks.
The first sentence here, not MLK’s words, eventually spun off on their own and ended up being retweeted by none other than Penn Jillette from Penn and Teller. From there, his 1.6 million followers did the rest.
In 24 hours, the quote showed over 9,000 hits on Google. In this case, it’s a harmless quote, but it’s easy to see how any false information could spread in the same way. This is illustrated further by the preponderance of death rumors regarding various celebrities. The news of Osama’s death and this fake quote show how quickly social media can spread information, but it’s up to us as individuals to verify that information.