Einstein Really Did Say That!

Or how a lot of those inspirational online quotes are a load of baloney and why and how to source your own, accurate quotes for online sharing …

By: Megan Cossey

If you don’t believe me, how about PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN?!

Recently, I launched a free online course called “How to Fact Check a Tweet in 20 Minutes or Less.” In it, I devote an entire module on demonstrating to my students how they can quickly and easily fact check those lovely inspirational quotes that are forever showing up in our online newsfeeds. Why? Because unfortunately many of them are either fake or misattributed. (Hint: Einstein probably didn’t say that.)

At the same time, those quotes are often what your followers are most likely to love, share, and retweet, so they are a great way to get your name, brand, or business more online attention!

However, instead of only verifying pithy quotes shared by others, what about finding and sharing your own? That way you can a) rest assured that the quote is both real and correctly attributed and b) you can add a source to your quote, a social media best practice you and I are going to start following from now on because we are fact checking HEROS!

So without further ado, a short list of handy primary and dependable secondary sources to go fishing for your next awesome quote on success, happiness, and Donald Trump …

1) First, some reliable secondary sources you have to actually shell out money for the latest editions of: Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations; Bloomsbury Thematic Dictionary of Quotations; and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

2) bartleby.com/quotations Note: It includes an online copy of Bartlett’s, but it is an edition from 1919. So if you are looking for the perfect Einstein quote you might want to check out a later edition.

3) Luckily, Project Gutenberg has Bartlett’s 9th edition (2009) available for a free download! Between Gutenberg and Google Books you can access just about any collection of online works out there that is in the public domain (Shakespeare, the Bible, the 1905 bestseller Cats for Pleasure and Profit). However, that is only useful if you know the quote, author, or context you are seeking.

4) FindLaw has a searchable database of Supreme Court decisions from 1760 onwards. It offers the full transcript of opinions beginning in 2000.

5) Everything Lincoln ever said or wrote that has been recorded for posterity can be looked up here. Apparently Lincoln did NOT, in fact, say that thing about quotes on the Internet …

6) Check out www.americanrhetoric.com for full transcripts of famous speeches made by Americans through history.

7) Find out if your library or local university has a subscription to Credo Reference (I access it through the New York Public Library). It’s an online database that boasts 3.8 million “full text entries” in 1,400 reference books. Again, this is more useful when you already know the quote and the person or context, but if you are seeking a rabbit hole to tumble down … this is a great place to start.

WARNING!! There are plenty of quotation search websites out there, but they are rarely reliable secondary sources! Why? Because they don’t SOURCE the dang quotes! Which is one of the reasons for all those baloney quotes out there clogging up the arteries of social media and the Internet.

So please, let’s all do the Internet and its bajillions of trusting denizens a fantastic favor and attach a SOURCE to these quotes before letting them out into the wild! Par example:

Exhibit A of InterWebbing Best Practices … Photo Credit: Heather/Flickr

See how easy that is? And fun too! And super satisfying …

By the way, I am not harping on this fact checking and accuracy stuff just for the fun of it. Did you know that last year a Google research team published a little ol’ paper proposing something they have developed called a “Knowledge-Based Trust Score” that would rank websites not by popularity but by factual accuracy? Don’t worry, they haven’t launched the software that would make it happen … yet.

But it doesn’t take a bunch of Google nerds to realize that the drek washing up on the shores of the Internet is getting thicker and harder to clean up, and people are craving online information that is accurate and up-to-date. Instead of waiting around for the inevitable — a general crack-down on Internet and social media shenanigans — we need to start making sure the content we put out there not only reflects the best our name or brand has to offer but is also … accurate.

You can quote me on that! (Yes, I have been dying to write that since the opening paragraph.)

Got a fact checking bee in your bonnet now? Eager to protect the reputation of your name, company, organization, or brand? Check out my free online course on how to quickly verify both the author and content of a tweet before retweeting!


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