After bin Laden’s Death, (Mostly) Fake MLK Quote Goes Viral

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Want to see a quote go viral? Slap a Martin Luther King, Jr. attribution on that baby and watch it go.

In the wake of mass celebrations and social media jubilation over the death of Osama bin Laden, a quotation began spreading around the Internet. You’ve probably seen a tweet or Facebook status update along these lines:

“I 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.” –Martin Luther King Jr.

(More on TIME.com: Why ‘Geronimo’? The Anti-Native American Implications)

While we can certainly appreciate the sentiment (hate’s bad!) behind the quotation, we really can’t say for certain how MLK would feel about the death of a mass-murdering terrorist — because King didn’t actually say this.

Megan McArdle was quick to point this out at The Atlantic on Monday evening, and since then theories have been circulating about where the quote came from, specifically the conveniently situation-appropriate first sentence.

While the latter part of the quotation is all King (from his book Strength to Love) the first part was actually from a woman called Jessica Dovey, who expressed her feelings and then followed it with the MLK quote in a Facebook status.

The entire thing was then mistakenly thought to be a King original and away it went, retweeted, reblogged and shared across the web.

So what does this all mean? When it comes down to it, not much. The sentiment behind the quote is still the same (hate really is bad!) and Dovey very eloquently explained why she wasn’t jubilant about bin Laden’s death. We can’t even criticize the desire so many had to spread the message–it’s a good message.

But it’s also worthy to note that if you’re going to spread a somewhat contrarian idea in the face others’ celebrations, you might want to make sure it’s attributed correctly. (via Atlantic)

(More on TIME.com: See continuing coverage on Osama bin Laden)

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