Facebook lies, and the rest of the Internet isn’t much better.
For example, I found an interesting quote by Lord Rama today.
I won’t quote the whole thing here because it’s long and sounds like it was written by a 16-year-old girl, but it starts out, “Find a guy who calls you beautiful instead of hot, who calls you back when you hang up on him…”
Now, I’m not saying I don’t believe Lord Rama actually said that, but seeing as how he was the seventh incarnation of the Hindu preserver god Vishnu, and he legendarily lived before 5000 B.C., he probably didn’t know too much about telephones or modern American slang.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as quotes falsely attributed to famous people on the Internet go.
One of my friends on Facebook the other day posted some old chain email purporting to consist of Bill Cosby talking about how lazy everyone is and how he’s 83 years old, and he’s so tired of having to pay taxes to support a bunch of straw men.
The quote itself didn’t piss me off — it was just another reiteration of a conservative philosophy that’s become more and more exaggerated as the ideological divide in our country grows larger and larger.
Whether it’s right to think that way is neither here nor there. What concerns me is this quote was attributed to Bill Cosby, reposted as such and presented as truth.
With a very minimal expenditure of Google-chakra, I was able to find the true attribution in about five seconds. Turns out a retired Republican state senator from Massachusetts named Robert Hall is the one who’s 83 or 76 and tired.
Bill Cosby is very much untired and in fact distanced himself almost two years ago from the “ugly views expressed” by Hall’s post. That changes things a little bit, doesn’t it?
When you’re reading something, your perception of it is altered imperceptibly by your impression of the author.
The way I read this quote when I thought it was said by a comedian whose humor is based on making funny faces and talking about Jell-O is a lot different from the way I read it once I realized it was written by an “Old Jarhead” whose blog also contains gems of wisdom like, “Islam — because even heartless barbarians need religion.”
Let’s move past this example.
Both of these quotes demonstrate one of the more interesting dichotomies the Internet presents us with.
On the one hand, the Internet is an entity of enormous knowledge and truth potential. Just like I was able to find the truth about that quote within seconds thanks to the magic of Google and Snopes, you can almost always find the truth on the Internet if you dig long enough. (About facts, that is — I don’t recommend trying to use the Internet as a path to enlightenment.)
The Internet has immense power to connect people and spread information. However, some of those people are dicks who hang out on 4chan.
They use the Internet to spread hilarious misattributions, flat-out lies and other things that are more subtly untrue and much harder to detect because of that subtlety.
Wikipedia trolling is the best example I can think of this fictionalizing power the Internet innately possesses. People (including me because it’s fun, and I’m a dick) go on Wikipedia and edit in false facts. Some of them are easy to catch — in high school, we used to edit the page for our hometown with obscenities about the poor quality of life there.
But some are harder to catch. And some, like the urban legend about Mr. Rogers the Marine sniper, become near-ubiquitously accepted parts of our realities without our even questioning their truth.
That is why, in this age of the Internet, where truth and lies do battle while traveling at a million miles an hour far above our heads in space, it is more important than ever to heed the words of Socrates: “The highest form of Human Excellence is to question oneself and others.”
Never take truth for granted.
Dallin Kelson is an English senior at UF. His column runs on Mondays. You can contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org.