Like many people, I had not heard of Dr. Anthony Fauci before the pandemic, and ideally I never would have. But as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases himself says, “C’est la vie.”

Except Dr. Fauci didn’t say that. In fact, despite his diligent updates, warnings, and advice over the past few months as America battles COVID-19, there’s plenty of things the doctor has never said—but that people on Instagram and Facebook are attributing to him anyways. 

I first realized this a few weeks ago when I stumbled upon this Instagram post from actress Martha Plimpton.

“I don’t know how to explain to you that you should care for other people,” the quote, pasted on an appropriately floral background, reads. But when I saw it was attributed to Dr. Fauci, I paused. I had definitely read that combination of words before the pandemic, and a quick Google confirmed it. In a Huffington Post article from 2017, “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People,” contributor Kayla Chadwick laments the state of political discourse in America. But the quote isn’t her’s, either. Chadwick doesn’t mention it, but six months earlier, author Lauren Morrill racked up close to 20,000 retweets when she used it in a tweet. 

“My biggest problem in these ACA debates?” she posted on January 12, 2017. “I don't know how to explain to you why you should care about other people.”

“Yup. It was mine first,” Morrill confirmed on Twitter when Vox reporter Rebecca Jennings also pointed it out. “Such a bummer for it to get ripped off and still be circulating three years later, but the internet is a wild place when you make your living as a creative person.”

Crossed wires in the internet’s game of telephone are pretty common, so for a few days I figured this was just a particularly comical instance of it—except then it happened again.

Over the weekend, a particularly long passage comparing the unknown potential long-lasting effects of COVID-19 to that of things like chickenpox, herpes, and HIV was making the rounds on Facebook. 

“For those in our society who suggest that people being cautious are cowards, for people who refuse to take even the simplest of precautions to protect themselves and those around them, I want to ask, without hyperbole and in all sincerity: How dare you?” it says. It’s attributed to Dr. Fauci. 

The end of the post encourages people to “copy and paste to share,” and indeed, it went viral. But it didn’t take commenters long to realize that there is no record of Fauci actually saying this. In fact, according to Snopes, the words are lifted from a June 14 Facebook post by user Amy Wright from Asheville, North Carolina.

“I think it’s very unfortunate that anyone would have tried to attribute this to Dr. Fauci,” Wright, who is not a medical professional, told Snopes when approached about the quote. “The only possible outcome of doing so would be to reduce one’s credibility.”

I can, theoretically, understand why this is happening. Slapping Dr. Fauci’s name on something allows a person to manufacture some much needed guidance during this rudderless time for Americans. But the cult of Dr. Fauci has ballooned into something that’s just, frankly, embarrassing, considering he is a 79-year-old physician and not Beyonce.

There are GIFs:



And an entire Hamilton-style rap:

We all have our ways of coping and a lot of time to kill during quarantine, but it’s not just that these memes and misattributed quotes make me cringe: They now also force me to question everything I see attributed to one of the only trusted voices during the pandemic. With Trump going on about dangerous coronavirus “cures” like hydroxychloroquine and taking crucial data about hospitalization rates away from the CDC, there’s very little information out there I feel confident is accurate. Did Fauci actually say this, or was it the caricature someone invented in their head? Does Dr. Fauci want me to keep calm and carry on, or was that someone else? When can I have my friends over for dinner again? I find myself asking so many unanswerable questions, and I don’t need “why would I want to celebrate Christmas with a Dr. Fauci ornament?” to be one of them.