Updated: December 3, 2021 7:46:59 am
Back in 2017, during the golden age of #FakeNews, Ivanka Trump tweeted a quote that she attributed to Albert Einstein: “If the facts don’t fit the theory, change the facts.” Einstein had said no such thing but, as one user pointed out in a tweet that went viral, the fact that he didn’t only made Trump’s tweet that much better. The meta-ness of the joke would have bewildered us in the good old analog days, but not today, with the transformation of the internet into a fake quote factory.
The most recent high-profile fake internet quote incident involved no less personages than Frida Kahlo and whoever handles the Twitter account of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Along with a 1940 self portrait by Kahlo, which shows her with cropped hair and wearing a suit, MoMA tweeted words that have been attributed to the late Mexican artist for at least 10 years: “I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do.” It turns out that this moving, utterly relatable reflection came not from Kahlo, but from a then 17-year-old Canadian girl, who had written it on a blog in 2008 in a flash of teenage angst.
To be fair, in the matter of fake quotes, the internet — and social media, in particular— has only built upon something that has existed for as long as human beings have been communicating. As any person who likes to win arguments knows, nothing quite settles a debate like a well-placed (preferably fake) quote from an authoritative source. It’s like Mark Twain, one of the internet’s favourite sources of fake quotes once said: “It is my belief that nearly any invented quotation, played with confidence, stands a good chance to deceive.” (Source: Following the Equator, 1897)
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 3, 2021 under the title ‘Word to the wise’.