Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Followup: "Dr. King" quote mostly accurate

(…depending on which network you saw it on.)

Just happened to see followups this past week about two different, almost-true stories, one of which I had passed along the longer, more-accurate version of to my purposefully-small corner of Facebook.

That would be the quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. ("Rev. King," let's remember), which was being passed around when the U.S. government finally found, and killed, the mass murderer. Turns out someone noticed it was almost a King quote, garbled by addition, and one thorough individual took the time to track the messages back to the source; so here's how it happened.

The Christian Science Monitor reported, "Megan McArdle, a blogger at the Atlantic, tracked the original quote down to Jessica Dovey," a young lady recently graduated from Penn State but living in Kobe (the original one), Japan. She'd posted in Facebook, writing,

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

Note, as someone down the line didn't, that she properly put quote marks at the beginning of the actual words of Dr. King. But as the message was passed along, those crucial open-quote marks were lost, and it became No-Longer-Really-A-Quote of MLK.. Then, as the wave spread to Twitter (ah-ha!), the rest was dropped and only Jessica's sentence remained, at which point it attained the state of true Fakeness.

So it was just due to this petty detail, a seemingly harmless omission, that the meaning was changed; only subtly, but enough that its credibility was compromised. But worse, this made it ripe pickings for Twitter, the Short Attention Span Medium (SASM), to phase it impatiently into a total "fake accompli."

Not the author's fault; first of all, her own statement still seems to me to be entirely faithful to the thought and intention of the great man she quotes in turn. And technically, she got it right — although it would have been an even better version of Right if she'd started the quote with its own paragraph.

So, right on, Jessica; and good work, Megan.

More to the story: Facebook to blame, too?

But, ah-ha! Here, once again, we detect the haughty hand of Fazebook's user interface design authority, which has turned its back on 25 years in the evolution of GUI design standards. They've decided that a Return or Enter is now the Send or Post command, not a line feed/"carriage return" as in pretty much every other piece of major or minor software out there.

And of course this fairly-significant change seemed to be turned on without any prior warning, much less inquiry into how their non-mobile access users felt about this new "feature" (since it seems geared to handhelds).

Therefore, Ms. Dovey may not have known that she's able to write posts with more than one paragraph — the trick is a couple "Shift-Return's." Only recently, finally, is it noted on-screen, while the function was always there (one UI tradition they have kept, so far). Maybe people were complaining.

So, that's another fine mess you've gotten us into, Mr. Zuckerberg. (And you can quote me on that.)

"How Osama bin Laden's death sparked a fake Martin Luther King quote"
– Christian Science Monitor

"Anatomy of a Fake Quotation"
by Megan McArdle, The Atlantic, May 3 2011

(The next day.. )

Only later does it occur to me that there's a genuinely wonderful thing to appreciate here, which should also be acknowledged. That's the fact that a near- and very-faithful-to-the-original quote with this perspective, this nature, struck such a chord in so many people, all over the country and globe. Nice to know that such a sensibility is that alive in this world, don't you think?