By the time President Obama appeared on TV on May 2, 2011, everybody knew what he was going to say. For hours, Twitter had been buzzing with news of Osama bin Laden's death; every second, 3,000 more Tweets burst onto the Web.One quotation in particular ricocheted around the Twittersphere: "I mourn the loss of thousands of previous lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one. Not even an enemy." It was credited to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.In Kobe, Japan, Jessica Dovey stared at the screen in disbelief. Dovey -- a Penn State grad teaching abroad -- had written that quote herself, on her Facebook status. Sure, Dovey had concluded by actually quoting King, but she had put his words in quotation marks, and left hers bare.Later, Dovey discovered that a friend had reposted the status and removed the quotation marks to save space. "There was a lot of negative hype claiming it wasn't 'legitimate,'" she said. In less than two days, the Web had given her an inadvertent, global soapbox.Over time, original quotations often erode. Phrases are condensed, odd words are retracted and sound bites are pulled from original quotations. Marie Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake," and at no point did Paul Revere shout "The British are coming!"Thanks to the Internet, information spreads faster than ever. But it's a double-edged sword: Misquotations, whether altered or fully inaccurate, mushroom faster than anyone can verify them.An army of websites -- The Quote Garden, The Quotations Page, BrainyQuote, Goodreads and Quotations Book -- has sprung up to provide hundreds of thousands of neat, useful maxims. But there's a problem. "Are all the quotes verified?" asks The Quote Garden's FAQ page, rhetorically. "Short answer," responds the site, "no. There are likely some mistakes."There sure are. For example, The Quotations Page credits Mark Twain with the line "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" -- a witty take on the city's temperamental weather, courtesy of the world-famous humorist. Well, not really. Though San Francisco weather reports continue to quote him, Twain never said anything of the sort. (Other falsified Twain-isms include "Whenever I feel the urge to exercise I lie down until it goes away," and "Wagner's music is better than it sounds.")In Ralph Keyes' book Nice Guys Finish Seventh: False Phrases, Spurious Sayings, and Famous Misquotations, he notes that quotations without a clear source tend to gravitate toward noted public figures. Keyes uses Twain, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln as examples. The Quotations Page's FAQs tell users that the site can't provide a source or reference. "Your best bet is to search the Web."Search the Web? How else did people arrive at The Quotations Page?Mariah Carey once made a poignant statement about the Third World, according to BrainyQuote. "Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry," she said. "I mean, I'd love to be skinny like that. But not with all the flies and death and stuff." A basic Google Search reveals that this "quotation" took place in a fictitious, satirical pseudo-interview."We get a lot of traffic," said Amit Kothari, founder of The Quotations Book. "It's in the tens of thousands for unique visitors every day." Though his database of quotes was initially created by an English professor, it now takes quotations from users directly. "Some are looking for inspiration, but sometimes school students are looking up quotable kinds of things for essays."Cathy Alter, instructor at Johns Hopkins University's nonfiction writing master's program, tells her students that as a reliable resource, Google simply doesn't count. "I think there are a lot of copies of copies of copies. It's like when you were little and played the game Telephone: The message gets garbled or watered down. That's the trouble with the Internet." Indeed, the quotation sites seem to feed off one another, sometimes replicating quotes with slight changes.Even historical matter doesn't get off scot-free. According to Goodreads, Thomas Jefferson once said that "if the American People allow private banks to control the issuance of their currency, first by inflation and then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the People of all their Property." The Oxford English Dictionary confirms that the word "deflation, in this sense, didn't exist until 1920. Jefferson died in 1826. Most likely, the quote arose in response to the contemporary economic situation. What better way to slam the government than to suggest that it went against Jefferson's advice?Joshua Wilner, a professor of literature at City College and The Graduate Center, says the college trains freshmen to help them find -- and correctly attribute -- reliable sources on the Internet. "They're directed to certain kinds of sources: ones that are recognized as valid archives. Wikipedia? Well, it depends. Look at the footnote trail -- where did these trails come from? They're trained to evaluate claims that they're finding online."He and Alter place faith in primary-source documents: first-person interviews, hard copies of newspapers, letters, journals, not aggregations of quotes without sources. "There's always something recorded, even in the cave," said Alter. "The Internet is the first step in the treasure map. It helps you figure out where to go, who to talk to."