The speed of lies

“A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” said Mark Twain. (Or did he?) The speed of lies has increased exponentially since Twain’s days.

Take this quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

I bet you saw that at least once yesterday as some people wrestled with their reaction to news about the death of Osama bin Laden. There’s just one problem: There’s no evidence that Martin Luther King ever said such a thing. As Megan McCardle said, “it’s a bit too apropos.  What ‘thousands’ would King have been talking about?  In which enemy’s death was he supposed to be rejoicing?”

It’s an intriguing phenomenon, witnessing the viral spread of a misquote. “What’s fascinating is the speed of it.  Someone made up a quote, attributed it to MLK jr, and disseminated it widely, all within 24 hours.  Why?  What do you get out of saying something pithy, and getting no credit for it?”

I just came across this, which may explain how a quotation mark in the wrong place led to the confusion. That being the case, maybe “lie” is too strong a word for this. In any case, it just goes to show that truth continues to have a hard time keeping up with myth.

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