The (Shy) Woman Whose Words Accidentally Became Martin Luther King's

By Alexis C. Madrigal

What it's like to become an unintentional Internet star in a drama outside your control

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Jessica Dovey did not intend to become the epicenter of an Internet-wide discussion about the nature of quotation, attribution, and Osama bin Laden. Yet that's exactly what happened when Dovey's Facebook-status sentiment -- "I will mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy" -- became entangled with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote she also posted. Within a day and through no fault of her own, Dovey's words had gone viral, misattributed to King.

Just like that, the words of a principled and reserved 24-year-old teaching English in Kobe, Japan became those of America's most-famed civil rights leader. And people believed it, at least until people like our own Megan McCardle started to dig in.

We reached her via telephone at a Tokyo hostel to ask what it was like to become an unintentional Internet star in a drama far outside her own control.

When did you hear the news about Osama bin Laden?

It's totally coincidental. I was reading 1984 at the time and I had just finished the part about the Two Minutes Hate. And I thought, I'm tired of reading. I turned off my Kindle, turned on my iPhone and was like, "Oh, crap." It struck me as strange and I didn't feel happy. So, I thought about why it struck me. It took me a really long time to think about what to say [on Facebook].

Did you know the King quote before you used it?

That Martin Luther King quote is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite quotes. I knew it before I posted it, but it definitely felt appropriate at the moment. He said it way better than I could ever say it.

When did you know that your words had taken off and gone viral?

Osama Bin LadenI didn't actually know until about 10 hours ago. Someone posted on the original comments thread and said, "Well, it's gone viral." I said "No, way." So I Googled what I said and, it brought up Martin Luther King Jr. I thought, "This is ridiculous. This is not his quote." And I was like, "Oh, no." So I tried to set things straight. I'm not familiar with Twitter really or message boards or anything, but I posted a screenshot and said, "Hey, you guys. It wasn't a misquote." It's not that I wanted to be related to the statement, but I worried that people would see that it was a misquote and people would discredit the entire quote, including the real King part. The entire quote would feel fake. And I didn't want people to have that. The truth came out, I guess, which is cool.

How did it feel to have your words mistaken for Martin Luther King's by a ton of people on the Internet?

Flattering, I guess. It was really, really flattering. I don't know.

What's the reaction been like?

My mom yelled at me. She said, "I can't believe you misquoted Martin Luther King, Jr." I said, "I didn't." ... Online, it's been mostly positive. I don't think I've gotten one negative message and I have hundreds of messages in my Facebook mailbox. Not one negative message at all. People are saying thank you. Or you said it beautifully. It's kind of embarrassing, I don't know. I don't know any of them, really. It's just so strange that all of these people singled me out and are sending their thanks my way. I just think the focus should be on the idea. The thing that I'm most proud of is that before all this happened, my dad commented on the thread and said, "I agree with this," and he called me later and said, "I agree. I don't think it's right what's happening." It really meant a lot to me that my father would say that. He taught me to respect life. Whatever I say, it's coming from him.

What's the craziest thing that's happened during this time for you?

The shaking.

The shaking?

The real-life actual shaking. I couldn't stop shaking. I was on my way to meet a friend for dinner and I couldn't even really talk about it. I couldn't even say, "Something I said went viral on the Internet today." You can't really just talk about it. Then I was in a hostel in Tokyo and I heard people talking about it behind me. I couldn't just turn around and say, "Hey guys, that's me."

Why not?

It just doesn't matter that it was me. I didn't expect or invite this. I don't mind it, I guess. It's positive and good and if I had to have 15 minutes of fame by some means, then I couldn't have picked anything better.

Image: Jessica Dovey.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/05/the-shy-woman-whose-words-accidentally-became-martin-luther-kings/238309/