It doesn’t take long after a tragedy for rumors and hoaxes to make the rounds. After the mass shooting in Las Vegas over the weekend, trolls on 4chan and other forums quickly flooded the Internet with claims that a Trump-hating Arkansas man named Geary Danley was the gunman (he wasn’t, and he wasn’t even in Nevada at the time; I don’t know if he hates the president); that the gunman was a recent convert to Islam named Samir al-Hajeed (the photo used was of Internet comedian Sam Hyde, and it wasn’t the first time he’d been tapped as a “lone white gunman”); and that various people were missing but weren’t or didn’t exist (pictures of porn stars and murder suspects in other countries, among others, were used).
Reports were that alt-right trolls were intent on blaming the left for the shooting (just like with Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Charlottesville, etc.), and tarring people who had nothing to do with it was just a means to an end. Those guys in grainy photos and videos at left-leaning protests looked enough like the gunman for them. Actual truth? Ha! That’s for suckers.
For the short amount of time it took to concoct those stories, they’ll stick around for a very long time; lies live forever on the Internet, and if one feeds someone’s confirmation bias, it’s sure to be spread much further than any debunking would be.
For Danley and his family of Bella Vista, the impact so far has been harsh, with death threats coming after the shooting, thanks to his ex-wife, Marilou Danley, being the girlfriend of the reported actual gunman, Stephen Paddock. Northwest Arkansas’ Channels 40/29 News reported that Dionne Waltrip, one of Geary Danley’s daughters, said Marilou had never lived in Arkansas; the couple has been divorced since 2015, according to records in Nevada. “Our family doesn’t know Stephen Paddock, and has no knowledge of Marilou’s relationship with Mr. Paddock,” Waltrip said.
But that doesn’t matter to some people because it doesn’t fit what they want people to believe (and they accuse traditional media of being fake … sheesh).
Fake news isn’t the only fakery to be concerned about, though, nor is it the only thing that hyperpartisans tend to drag out to try to prove whatever point they’re trying to make (which is usually that anyone slightly to the left or right of them is the real hyperpartisan and unforgivably evil … and they have cooties).
All you have to do is “quote” Saul Alinsky’s method on creating a socialist state (nope, he didn’t write that, and indications are that he was no great fan of socialism/communism/Marxism), or take the Wikipedia entry on Rules for Radicals as accurate in reporting quotes (original sources, people … use ’em).
Or you can pull out the old saw about insanity that Albert Einstein almost certainly did not say, pithy though it is.
Or you could cite the George Washington “quote” sure to surface yet again (if it hasn’t already) in the debate about the Las Vegas shooting: “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty, teeth and keystone under independence.” Researchers haven’t found that quote or any closely related one in Washington’s writings, but that’s never stopped those with an agenda from pushing the narrative.
Sometimes the fake quote is clearly a joke, as in the numerous memes with Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln quoted saying that quotes on the Internet aren’t necessarily true, or the one of Lincoln saying, “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna run around and desert you.” (I do have the strange feeling, though, that Lincoln would approve of the RickRoll.)
At times it may be the product of sloppy editing or lack of knowledge of how to treat quotations, which is how, after the death of Osama bin Laden, a Martin Luther King Jr. quote came to be inadvertently expanded with words he didn’t say (what he didn’t say is in bold):
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.” MLK Jr.
Megan McArdle of the Atlantic found that after Jessica Dovey posted an actual quote (correctly punctuated and attributed) behind her own thoughts on Facebook, it had the quotation marks stripped out and was well on its way to having Dovey’s words (and only her words) attributed to King in less than two days’ time. Google shows the debunkings of the quote first in its results, but those who venture past the first page will find many uncorrected entries with the quote.
As I said, on the Internet, lies live forever.
How can you tell if a quote is fake? Well, short of becoming an expert on everyone who’s ever lived and said something notable, you’ll have to rely in many cases on the research (using original sources, of course) of others. For past presidents such as Washington and Thomas Jefferson, or world leaders like Winston Churchill, their foundations—Mount Vernon, Monticello, etc.—are generally the best source for accurate quotes (and with context … imagine that!), as well as tracing of spurious quotations. With researchers focusing on just that leader, they usually have the knowledge necessary to tell conclusively what originated with who. For more current leaders, if the quotation was spoken and recorded, uncut recordings (video or audio) are best. Why uncut? Because hyperpartisans loooove to re-edit to make someone they don’t like look as bad as possible.
Finding Dulcinea suggests the first thing to do when confronted with a dubious quote is to ask questions about its possible origin and check if it’s listed on Wikipedia’s common- misquotation list, as well as try to locate the original context on the Web.
I do all these things, but I also have one question I always ask: Is it pithy? If it is and the supposed author is not given to pith, you might be falling for a fake. Seriously, read some of Jefferson’s writings and then decide if he said this: “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
If you said no, congratulations. You’re right; Thomas Jefferson was not a motivational speaker. Thank God for that.
I could go on and on about the tone-deafness of the president on this and Puerto Rico (so Maria wasn’t a real catastrophe?), but I won’t. Instead, I’ll leave you with a couple of videos from Tom Petty. RIP, Tom.