The internet is full of memes, and if you're new to it, they can seem quite strange. ONE such meme is the intentionally strange, "Kill yourself immediately." The word "immediately" is superfluous as any command given without a timeframe is implicitly meant to be done right away, but that's sort of the point. Memes aren't meant to be serious. They're supposed to be peculiar, odd or otherwise memorable to stick in people's minds.
If someone says, "Kill yourself immediately," odds are they are trying to be humorous (albeit in a twisted way). They are not seriously trying to get you to commit suicide. That is why you might see posts like, "God you're an idiot. Kill yourself immediately." It's supposed to be a funny expression of disdain. I never thought it was funny, but hey, bad humor is still humor.
The reason I bring this up is I recently came across a story because of this tweet:
— Watts Up With That (@wattsupwiththat) December 9, 2016
Which struck me as odd as I wouldn't expect a biologist to use an internet meme in a discussion of the President Elect. I Looked into it, and it appears the quotation may be fake. If it isn't, a different quotation in the same story is. That's not what stood out to me though. What stood out to me is the very news outlets reporting this story all seemed to use different fake quotes. Other differences amongst the stories are strange as well. It seems in an era where media outlets can practically just copy and paste text from other articles to get clicks, people can't even do that right.
That link goes to a piece which says, "Yahoo reports on another outbreak of green peace and love, this time from Arizona Professor John Wiens." It then provides this excerpt:
‘Kill yourself immediately’: Biologist takes aim at climate change denier Donald Trump
An evolutionary biologist who says all animal life could be wiped out in as little as 50 years has instructed Donald Trump to “kill yourself immediately”.
Professor John Wiens took aim at the controversial president elect, who refutes the existence of climate change, while describing the “global disaster” taking hold of our planet.
The Arizona University scientist found that 47 per cent of almost 1000 species had suffered local extinctions linked to climate change, according to the Independent.
Professor Wiens joked that if he ever got to meet Trump he would instruct him to “kill himself”, but when questioned again he gave a more serious answer.
“I guess I would tell him ‘what would you think if there was a country on the other side of the world that was releasing gas that was going to cause extinctions in our country, to hurt our crops and make people starve?’
“He would say, ‘tell me where it is and we’ll bomb them tomorrow’. Then I’d say, ‘this is what we’re doing to other countries because we are the big polluters’.”
I won't harp on the general poor quality of the Yahoo article being quoted, but I will note the first two paragraphs quoted above are not part of the article itself. They art the headline and subhead (basically a summary) of the article, things usually not written by the author of the article itself. Given that, it is interesting they quote a person as using the internet meme, "kill yoruself immediately" while the text of the article uses the quotation, "kill himself."
Did Professor Wiens say he would tell Donald Trump, "Kill yourself immediately"? I can't say. What I can say is there doesn't seem to be much of a case that he did. I originally planned to give an overview of the various reporting of this story and how it is contradictory, but I recently discovered something even more troubling. The Yahoo article gives its information as being "according to the Independent." The Independent covered this story wtih an article whose subhead was:
Professor John Wiens describes Donald Trump's election as a disaster for the planet and jokes grimly he should 'kill himself immediately'
While the text of it said:
Professor Wiens, of Arizona University, described this as a “global disaster” and, when asked what he would say to the President-elect if he met him, he joked grimly: “Kill yourself immediately.”
Which uses a different quotation. That raises the obvious question, "Which, if either, quotation is real?" When I went to write this post, I made a shocking discovery regarding that. It appears neither quote was real. Compare what The Independent said three days ago when it published its story to what you see now when you visit the web page. Here is the URL for the story:
Take note of the part "donald-trum-kill-himself." Here is a screengrab of the headline and subhead that went with it three days ago:
Here is it now:
Here is a screenshot of part of the article as it was published:
Here is the same part of the article as it is now:
The quote and all traces of it have been excised from the article. Even the publication date has been changed, indicating when the article was updated to remove what appears to have been fabricated quotations (10 hours ago, as I am writing now). That is something like 24 to 36 hours after I drew attention to the high probability of a fake quotation having been used, both on Twitter and at a major climate blog Watts up With That. As I said there:
Did nobody notice the article quoted in this post contradicts its own subhead, and consequently the title of this post?
If you check different news sources, you’ll find contradictory reporting on just what this guy said, when and where he said it, as well as even how you spell the guy’s name. Shouldn’t people take a minute and try to sort of what was actually said before spreading stories? As it stands, it is impossible for anyone here to know what was actually said.
I continued to draw attention to the contradictory nature of the quotations provided in multiple comments there. For instance:
To be clear, your position is this news outlet falsified a quote but you that they only did so to an extent that left the intended meaning intact. Given that trust, you defend the use of a fake quote. I hope you’ll understand why some people might not be so trusting and instead be skeptical of any story which uses fake quotes.
But even if one isn’t skeptical of this article at all, misquoting people is wrong. Everyone should be able to come together and agree people should be quoted accurately.
Michael Jankowski, (at least) one of the two quotes in the news article used for this post is fake. One could give naive odds the headline of this post uses a falsified quote. That’s not okay. It’s not okay if such a falsified quote is then spread across social media due to things like this site’s Twitter account using it as its hook.
It’s a simple matter of standards. When fake quotes are promoted in the same fashion as real quotes, it is impossible to tell which quotes are actually real. That’s why everyone should agree to a standard in which quotations must be accurate.
If I see a news article has used a fake quote, I don’t trust anything it says. If they can’t accurately report what someone says, why should I believe they are reporting anything accurately?
I have no doubt he said what he said. My only doubts are that what he said has been reported accurately. Comparing the quotations provided in the news article for this post shows at least one is fake. If somebody can direct us to actual documentation of what he said, such as a recording (if spoken) or printed copy (if written), then we can know what he said.
Otherwise all we have is somebody’s reporting of what he said. If that reporting is not credible, then how can we be sure what was actually said?
I would say every one of these comments has been proven right. The Independent has taken down any reference to these supposed quotations, going so far as to hide the fact it ever posted any. It makes no mention of the fact the article has been updated, and no reader coming across the story now would ever realize The Independent has covered this up. The most likely explanation is The Independent realized the quotation was wrong and wanted to hide the fact it used a fabricated quote.
This post isn't just to gloat about being right, though I do feel it is appropriate to say, "I told you so." A bigger issue is the fact dozens of news outlets have covered this story, widely promulgating the idea this professor used an internet meme to tell the President Elect to commit suicide. It seems probable all that coverage is based upon a falsified quotation. That The Independent now tries to cover up its error does nothing to address the widespread belief it created.
In fact, the cover up makes things far worse as now there are many articles citing The Independent as their source even though The Independent no longer backs up what they say. That's crazy. If The Independent had at least acted honestly and ethically by posting a correction noting the change and reason for it, then there would at least be some chance people exposed to the apparently fake quote would come to learn it wasn't real.
I don't know what to say about all this. This post is pretty rushed as I spent a fair amount of time on the original version of the post before discovering The Independent's secret alterations to its story. I would like to take more time to be more thorough and get this post "right" (and perhaps figure out some juicy rhetoric with which to condemn this dishonest and unethical behavior), but I Wanted to get it out as soon as possible. Because as I pointed out to another user discussing this story:
Chimp, by Monday, nobody will care what he said. The story will have come and gone. Even if it turned out he had actually said, “I think the world would be a better place if you killed yourself, though I don’t want you to,” by Monday, it wouldn’t matter. Few people who heard about the story and got upset would even hear about any correction that got made.
That’s why journalists are supposed to put a lot of effort into verifying the things they write. They know how important getting things right the first time is.
I Don't know what this professor actually said. It is possible he did say he would tell Donald Trump, "Kill yourself immediately" because he's hip with internet memes. It is also possible he said something somewhat similar to that. It is also possible this quotation was nothing but the figment of somebody's imagination. I can't say for sure.
What I can say is this story was immediately questionable when I first read it. I talked to people for over a day about how the various versions of the quotation I had seen didn't make sense. Sometime after that, The Independent secretly changed its article to cover up all reference to any version of this quotation. At this point, I'd say even if that quotation were real, we'd never be able to tell because of the The Independent's dishonesty.
Absent hard evidence Professor Wiens said anything about Donald Trump killing himself or a public statement from him confirming he did, I'd say there is absolutely no credibility to this aspect of the story.
As a final note, I hope anyone and everyone who ran or promoted this story will now make a public acknowledgment there is no basis for the quotation, and as such, their headlines and pieces may well be incorrect.