Fake Quotes and Why

Did Albert Einstein really come up with the definition of insanity? Or does George Washington really think that you need God and the bible to run a country? Fake quotes are a pariah on our understanding of historical events. They make it near impossible to do accurate scholarship and give an even handed account of the events as they happened. 

An actual quote about fake quotes, comes from Matt Levatich who tweeted on June 27, 2018:

“It’s shameful we live in a time when people create fake-quotes. There’s one attributed to me on Twitter. I have not, nor would I ever speak about the President of the United States or anyone else in that way.” 

This is a quote that the authors of a paper published in the Journal of Pragmatics, titled Creation, dissemination and uptake of fake-quotes in lay political discourse on Facebook and Twitter were quick to point out. The authors in the highly cited paper point out that though the issue and frequency of the problem proliferate the internet, solutions and resolutions to the problem remain scarce. 

In this section of the site, we’re going to identify fake quotes, attempt to make sure they are indeed fake quotes, and also look at the reasons for why they may have been fabricated (and caught on with the general public). Many other websites, such as Quote Investigator, do an admirable job at applying scholarship to this much needed space in society. However at QuotesExplained, we’re going to go attempt to go one step further and look at the motivations for false attributions and full sale fabrications of quotes. The hope is that we may find a trend that may help predict future manifestations of the same problem.  

A recurring theme within the (scarce) academic literature on the subject and contemporary news sources (as well as this website) is how hard it is to prove a negative. It is incredibly easy for someone to claim a quote happened, however actually proving that a specific person did in fact say that quote, at that specific time, in that specific place is a problem for not just historians but all of society. We’re going to try and remedy that in whatever limited fashion we can.  

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