Trump may think Einstein said it actually it was Dianne Feinstein. The way quotes circulate online is bizarre, often hilarious, but sometimes downright scary
Every few weeks, Ill get an angry email or tweet about a terrible, stupid thing I supposedly said. The irritated person will point to a stern-looking photo of me paired with this quote: The patriarchy is using equality to oppress women. Now we need a new wave of feminism to be more equal than men. I have no problem admitting this is an absurd statement, mostly because I never wrote or said it.
Despite the line being entirely fabricated, its been shared and attributed to me countless times over the years, most recently in an article published by a well-known conservative magazine. Then, I was able to get a correction; otherwise Ive had to accept that this stupid thing I never said will live on with my name attached to it in perpetuity. Thanks, internet!
While weve come to accept the existence of online hoaxes or fake memes as inevitable, what we havent sorted out is our collective responsibility to the truth. Do we pause before sharing something if were not certain of its true origin? Should there be consequences for tweeting or sharing something false?
Part of whats difficult is that fake or incorrect quotes come in a seemingly infinite variety of wrongness. Sometimes the words are real, but the source isnt. Donald Trump, for example, was fond of tweeting out this quote, attributing it to Albert Einstein: You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else. The person who actually said this was Senator Dianne Feinstein, in a 1985 Cosmopolitan article.
At other times the quote and source are correct, but the context is all wrong. Fashion website Verily Magazine tweeted out an image this week of a thin white model with long, red hair posing in a candlelit tent on the beach. The quote alongside reads: My wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make others comfortable. Its quite a lovely sentiment, until you realize that the words were written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, directed to his son about growing up black in a white supremacist society.
Mostly, though, the words are just faked; my guess is that we choose to believe them because they seem to confirm our worst suspicions about a person. Take this disturbing image of Ted Cruz with Josh Duggar, a reality television star who admitted to molesting some of his young siblings. The quote superimposed over the image says: While there may have been an age difference, Josh Duggars transgressions are far less an affront to God than what gays do to each other. Given Cruzs long anti-LGBT history, and as inarguably unlikeable as the presidential hopeful is, its tempting to believe that he could say such a thing. But of course he never did.
I imagine that some of the people who spread fake quotes attributed to me, like this new one Ive come across, truly believe that they could be mine. But just as often, theyre created with the sole purpose of defaming or harassing a person banking on the knowledge that once something is online, its near-impossible to stop. And that its much harder to convince someone that you never said something than to prove that you did.
Naturally, mistakes can happen without malice, and the problem isnt always about the internet. Last year, for example, the US postal service unveiled a stamp dedicated to Maya Angelou that included a quote she never wrote.
Short of not sharing anything without a link to its original source, its hard to know how to stop the spread of false quotes. And getting too caught up with the wrongness of people on the internet is a surefire way to never know happiness again.
Perhaps if we all paused before retweeting, thought a beat before we shared with confidence, we could at least individually slow the misinformation. As Benjamin Franklin said: Take time for all things great haste makes waste. At least, I think he said it.