Back in 1961, President John F. Kennedy addressed the American Newspaper Publishers Association, to share with them his views on how to handle new challenges to publishing in a time of the Cold War.
Like with so much on the Internet, old things return for a second or third round, and that’s exactly what has happened to JFK’s address. This time, it’s forces challenging the status quo who invoke John F. Kennedy with the intent to prove that the iconic president would be on their side, had he lived. They latch on to the enormous cultural capital that the assassinated president has, to prove the point that the citizens of the US have lost their freedom of speech.
The videos have been watched more than two million times.
All the viral varieties of the speech focus on JFK’s criticism on aspects on a closed society. JFK implies that there are secret societies that must be exposed; that a democratic government must be completely transparent and that the press should be allowed total freedom.
Only problem is that JFK never said what video editors make him say. Not even close. The original speech is almost twenty minutes long. Something has been left on the cutting-room floor.
That “something” is a more nuanced message, and even some very outright controversial views on the relationship between the press and the state. And between self-restraint and censorship. The full text is, of course, available online for those who look.
WikiLeaks tweeted a link to one of these videos a few months ago, and more recently another version has been used when discussing the political uprising in Spain during the last weeks. The increasingly powerful hacker group Anonymous published a link without commentary. None of them have checked the source. If they would have, I doubt they would feel comfortable enough to pass it on. Both videos has about a million views each, yet reading the comments it’s clear that no one have reacted to the blatant falsification. So, there are two million people out there, who think they heard JFK saying something, he very definitely didn’t.
Faking JFK? I Can Do That Too!
To prove my point further, I spent half an hour in an audio editor and made my own version of the very same speech. However, I cherry-picked the parts that were not in favor of anything remotely close to a liberal view on information politics. It’s the very same JFK speech. I did not alter individual words, or even moved sentences in the chronology. I just deleted the parts that didn’t prove my point. Let’s just say, it’s quite another animal in my version. Look at the video below.
In a world where posting a link to Facebook or forward a link to thousands of Twitter followers is done in a heartbeat, it’s so easy to forget the most important responsibility: checking your facts before passing it on. Relaying and curating information is an important function for the net generation, but the readers rely on you. Your stories must be correct. I thought that was what scientific journalism was all about?
If facts are left unchecked and false information is relayed in an infinite loop, fed by the viral logic of the net, the Internet is just a huge gossip machine. (Not that any of us would be terribly surprised?)