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Twitter users on Saturday were quick to indicate that a quote shared by CEO Elon Musk had been misattributed to Voltaire – when it had in reality originated with a neo-Nazi.
The billionaire tweeted a joke featuring a meme that showed a big hand crushing struggling figures with the accompanying words: “’To learn who rules over you, simply discover who you aren’t allowed to criticize.’ – Voltaire” Underneath that, the meme includes the joking comment: “we want to stand up against children with leukemia.”
The exact same “Voltaire” quote, nevertheless, was the topic of a fact-check piece last yr from The Associated Press after Republican Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie shared it in a tweet criticizing Dr Anthony Fauci, also attributing the words to the French philosopher.
“Enlightenment-era author Voltaire didn’t say this,” AP reported. “The quote, which was paraphrased, comes from a 1993 radio broadcast by Kevin Alfred Strom, who has been identified as a neo-Nazi by organizations that monitor hate groups.”
The AP continued: “The unique quote from Strom, a self-proclaimed American white nationalist and Holocaust denier, has been used previously online and paraphrased in a wide range of ways … Despite the quote originating greater than 100 years after Voltaire’s death in 1778, it has been repurposed and incorrectly attributed to him dozens of times. In 2019, actor John Cusack tweeted the quote before deleting the post and apologizing.”
On Saturday, Musk’s tweet remained for hours without correction or apology as users identified the inaccuracy, some with glee and a few with scorn.
“If only your ability to launch rockets or presidential campaigns was pretty much as good as your ability to launch misinformation,” tweeted commentator and creator Keith Olbermann. “Voltaire didn’t say that. A neo-Nazi said that. 30 years ago. Good work, Elmo.”
One other user, @HistoryUser, shared a Reuters fact-check link and wrote: “This was not said by Voltaire but by Kevin Strom, a neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier. It’s a cool quote and I wish it had been said by a greater dude, however it wasn’t, and so people should really stop using it. (And definitely stop saying Voltaire said it!)”
The Independent has reached out to Twitter for comment.