Earlier this week, The Inquisitr carried an opinion piece on the misattributed Morgan Freeman Newtown commentary (written by me), one that was later revealed to be the work of a man named Mark from Vancouver.
Initially, the quote came across our desks as it appeared to most of you — purported to be commentary from Morgan Freeman about the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary. From the timeline of its travels through social media, it was a series of remarks made very soon after we began to learn the details of what occurred in Newtown on Friday.
Mark from Vancouver (who incidentally, we have confirmed, made no effort to claim the words were that of Morgan Freeman) wrote of his feelings at the moment as they were — frustrated, heartbroken, and sad.
In turn, just one night after the tragedy, I too was strongly reacting, as we all were. In my haste to point out that it was unlikely Morgan Freeman had made the comments, I used Mark’s words without first attempting to locate him and actually inquire about his original writing.
That was unfair, and I apologize to Mark for drawing him into a point/counterpoint to which he never consented. I made more than a few assumptions about the impetus behind the missive, many of which turned out to be inaccurate when contrasted with his actual replies. (Mark has also not complained about my use of his comment, and neither of us realized in our respective writings just how far the reach would span.)
Below, Mark (who, while “from Vancouver,” is actually a prior US resident) explains the Morgan Freeman connection a bit more deeply, and one of the aspects that troubled him about the piece’s impact was the inclusion of the word “hoax.”
(Mark adds: ” … to me the word implies both intent and deceit. I’m not a mustache-twirling mastermind who engineered the perfect troll quote to hoax the internet. It’s just an individual opinion.”)
Indeed, the misattribution was far from a “hoax” (as we have understood the word to mean in the past) and on the internet, the term has become a sort of shorthand for cases like this which involve unsourced, high-profile sharing and mistaken identity. The addition of Freeman’s name appears to have come from a response to Mark’s addendum that he would not mind the comments being shared, but never did he or any of his friends intend to actually misattribute the quote to the actor.
Unwitting web users, in turn, accepted the quote and attribution as correct and passed it on.
The fact that Freeman’s name and the quote became so quickly and heavily tied is perhaps less happenstance and more a reflection of the star’s place in our culture and consciousness. Often Morgan Freeman has been dubbed the “voice of God,” and we would be hard pressed to think of a famous person whose tones convey gravity so much as the beloved actor.
And it seems the prediction made by Mark’s friend was truer than anyone would have thought — when people believed it was Morgan Freeman “speaking,” they listened. (Several even added they heard the words in their heads as dictated by Freeman.) Ultimately, a representative for the actor responded and confirmed that the words were not those of Freeman.
To make an already long story short, Mark reached out to me to comment on my comments, and subsequently agreed to discuss the Morgan Freeman Newtown phenomenon with us. Below are a few questions, and Mark’s answers.
The Inquisitr: In our initial piece on the Morgan Freeman/Newtown viral misquote, a comment we kept hearing was that even though Morgan Freeman hadn’t said those words, they were meaningful. Others said that they were glad the piece you wrote got the attention it did.
Can you explain a little bit about what inspired you to write it originally?
It was absolutely a gut reaction. I hadn’t seen the news but I saw several people I care about distraught and asking why, so I looked it up. I immediately thought about the Aurora theater, the Portland mall, and incidents dating back to Columbine, and was angered at CNN and Fox News in particular for their reporting methods of chasing after little kids for interviews only moments after what is (hopefully) the most traumatic thing they’ll ever experience.
I don’t usually post commentary on current events on Facebook, but I just started writing off-the-cuff. I didn’t edit before posting, I didn’t read up on statistics, and I typed what I felt in the moment, for a relatively small group of Facebook friends. So, sure the argument isn’t perfect and it’s not nearly the only problem, but I was drawing attention to a very real symptom of a major social issue.
I genuinely feel that many people who would lash out like this are mentally ill in myriad ways, and that greater acceptance and public understanding of that illness would at the very least cause things like this to happen less often. I don’t want to armchair-diagnose anyone, but I can’t fathom that someone who kills a bunch of 6 years olds could be considered “healthy” by any standard.
The Inquisitr: Since you wrote it, have you seen anything that changes or reinforces your original observations?
Reinforces, absolutely. My main point was of course that the media takes attention away from the victims. So any story about Morgan Freeman, or me, or the viral spread, or the so-called hoax, also took attention away from them. Yes, I realize I’m part of that by granting an interview about this, but again, I wasn’t lambasting all news media. There are plenty of outlets I respect. I was very happy to hear that Anderson Cooper refused to mention or show pictures of the shooter, for instance.
The Inquisitr: As the Reddit screenshot indicates, the attachment to Morgan Freeman was not intentional. Do you know where the tipping point was or how it went from a Facebook joke to an internationally shared commentary? Was it shared somewhere notable? Was it all just individuals driving the piece’s visibility?
My post was set to Friends only, so there wasn’t a Share link. That’s probably the main reason it was untraceable at first; people were copy/pasting, and some didn’t put my name on it. One friend of mine reposted it, and even tagged me in the post, but her friends still thought she was the one who said it. I casually mentioned that if I know the internet (and I apparently do), somebody would repost this as a celebrity, since many people already started thinking someone else said it.
I’ve seen several quotes here and there misattributed to people like Betty White, Morgan Freeman, Patrick Stewart, etc. I do know that a friend of mine reposted it as Morgan Freeman, and another to Bette Midler, but I have no idea if they were the first to do this. Nobody did it with the intention of going viral or mocking the victims. I think they were just wondering who’d buy it without checking into it first, especially after that whole Facebook privacy rights thing a few weeks back.
To my knowledge a friend of a friend, whom I’ve never met, is a DJ with a lot of followers, and it blew up when he posted it on his page. Then someone put it on Reddit (well before the screenshot was posted) and that was the tipping point. I don’t follow Reddit so I only heard about it tangentially, but someone told me it quickly reached the front page.
The Inquisitr: At what point did you realize this had gotten so much attention? Did it start coming back to you?
The first time was when two friends told me that a girl they went to high school with in Alberta – and who has no other connections to me – posted the quote attributed to Morgan Freeman on her Facebook. I was definitely surprised.
It started coming back to me when a friend posted the censored screenshot on Reddit, but only identified me as a guy named Mark in Vancouver. People were apparently trying to dig up more about me for a while, and some people found me. I did comment on a few news articles painting me as a hoaxer, just to somewhat clear my name, but otherwise I contacted reporters independently.
I also contacted Snopes so they could source the truth of this, but asked them not to reveal my full identity. I wanted to keep this semi-private, because attention isn’t the reason I wrote it. I felt if people really wanted to track me down and talk, they could.
On Sunday a friend linked me to an article in the Vancouver Sun which published my full name, school, and occupation, which the reporter gathered from searching for me on LinkedIn. She even listed a comedy event I’m participating in this week, which basically means anyone could realistically confront me in person.
She didn’t ask permission to print any of this, in fact if I had spoken to her I would’ve asked her not to post my personal information. I feel it was very irresponsible journalism, especially since I’ve taken a good deal of flak from people who have misdirected their anger at me. It actually caused me quite a bit of stress yesterday, and I’m not at all comfortable with how she handled it.
Editor’s note: That did occur as Mark describes it, and seems a strange approach at best to an individual who was not involved in a matter of public record and for which no other compelling reason exists to breach relative anonymity. As such, we won’t be linking back to the post and have respected Mark’s request for privacy.
The Inquisitr: Many readers expressed strong agreement about the initial remarks you made about the media. In the subsequent days since you wrote the commentary, have you observed the same patterns, or is press coverage of the event being handled more sensitively than one might expect?
Most comments I’ve seen have still widely agreed with the sentiment despite learning who did – or didn’t – say it. It still seems like most news outlets are focusing on the misquote, rather than the quote itself. But I do sense that more credible news outlets are focusing on the actual tragedy, and not the tabloid aspects of this.
The Inquisitr: In my initial post, I spoke a lot about gun control and what I personally perceive to be an unwillingness among Americans to confront the issue of guns. In my subsequent review of the writing’s progression across the internet, I noticed many who shared it highlighted that portion. Do you feel that aspect of the piece became more prominent? From a Canadian perspective, do you think American gun policy is reasonable? Is it a debate for another time?
I’m from the States originally, so I’m privy to how it works on both sides. Sometimes I see news pieces like the Nose Hill Gentleman story that utterly baffle me, but those are isolated cases and not the norm on either end.
I did mention gun control, but I didn’t actually say anything either way, just that it wasn’t really relevant. I’m not pro-gun, nor anti-gun; I think most people would agree that if you own guns, you should take responsibility of keeping them secure.
If it’s really important for you to own assault weapons, you should do the homework and be willing to jump through some hoops. Otherwise I have no passionate stance either way. If you take a gun from a disturbed individual bent on a massacre, they’re still disturbed. They’ll use blades, or pipebombs, or just black market guns. I suppose the only difference is that it’s easier to subdue someone carrying lesser weapons, but that’s not taking panic into account.
It’s still weird to see some people only focusing on that though, saying I’m “obviously” an NRA member or gun enthusiast. It’s actually pretty amusing what people say I “obviously” think about certain issues, then get it completely wrong. Though I don’t have a burning desire to justify myself to people like that.
The Inquisitr: In my initial post, I was a bit harsh on your words. Did I get anything in my initial post wrong? Any points you’d like to address and correct?
No hard feelings. Though I’ll say that your assertions about me being self-righteous and preachy were incorrect. As I said, it was a gut reaction for a relatively small group of people, so I’m well aware it’s not a perfect argument. It’s just one opinion and you were entitled to yours, but you likely wouldn’t have seen it at all if not for the misquote. I hope your opinion of me has changed since speaking to me directly. Editor’s note: Mark is actually a very reasonable and personable fellow, and we are grateful he took the time to answer our questions.
The Inquisitr: Has anyone incidentally sent this to you, unaware you actually wrote it?
I saw plenty of posts from Facebook friends attributing it to Morgan Freeman. I blame Facebook’s news algorithm; unless you change settings manually, you don’t see most of what’s posted anymore, just what’s popular.
My original post wasn’t all that popular initially, and news feeds travel so fast that I’m sure it was buried for even some of my closest friends, especially since I posted it during work hours. That original post, and my followup explaining how I feel about the situation, are now the only public posts on my Facebook page. Everything else has been restricted to friends only.
The Inquisitr: Were there any other excerpts you noticed in particular were quoted and re-quoted? Any parts seem to resonate more than others?
Many have focused on my main point of treating murderers like celebrities, but most people seem to cherry-pick what suits the tone of their articles. Some have taken out parts of it or paraphrased others. It’s been hacked apart so much that it’s almost like a Frankenstein’s monster of quotes now (including the torch-waving villagers, and my loss of control over it). But I saw a lot of people on Twitter saying “especially the last paragraph” resonated with them.
Again, we thank Mark for taking the time to discuss the Morgan Freeman viral phenomenon with us, and commend him on a very well-written set of thoughts on a tragedy we all wish we didn’t have to process. Our original piece is located here, and we’re sending Mark a link to this interview. Many readers were moved by his words, and the comments you leave will be viewable to him.