This blog post is part of a series focusing on media literacy.
We see the news: trolls are posting fake stories. We all think, “That’s terrible!” We worry that our students will be duped. We wonder how students and others fall for these falsehoods. Why do fake posts work? The answer to that can be found by taking a look at a very common practice on social media: posting, liking, or retweeting nicely decorated quotes from famous people.
If you have been on social media, it’s likely that you have seen this quote:
“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” —Albert Einstein
There are many decorated versions of these words discoverable by doing a web search, and I have seen classroom posters of this quote. Some of them say, “Everybody is a genius” instead of “Everyone is a genius.” Which is correct? Neither. Einstein never said any such thing. Hundreds of versions of a lie.
On Twitter I saw:
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” —Ben Franklin
Ben never said that. A total falsehood.
And how about these, all of which have come across my feeds?
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” —Thomas Jefferson
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” —Franklin Roosevelt
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” —Abraham Lincoln
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot and hold on.” —Teddy Roosevelt
Which version is the correct one? None of them. They are all fake.
How and Why Fake Quotes Spread Online
Intelligent, well-meaning people and fine educators have fallen for and unintentionally spread lies. All of these people get upset when they hear that troll farms are using Facebook to put out falsehoods that end up being widely shared, yet they are guilty of forwarding falsehoods themselves.