On June 8 2021, an Imgur user shared a quote-based image, attributing “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes” to Sigmund Freud:
Although the image appeared to be a screenshot of a tweet, no citation or context was included for the attributed quote. Imgur users who wished to verify the citation via Google search might notice that a “Featured Snippet” seemed to validate the quote and attribution to Freud, illustrating the inherent problem with that method:
A link to a page featuring solely the quote and attribution to Freud was pinned to the top as a “Featured Snippet,” and the question mark icon indicated that Google curated credible material for such highlights:
We display featured snippets when our systems determine this format will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking, both from the description about the page and when they click on the link to read the page itself. They’re especially helpful for those on mobile or searching by voice.
Following the Featured Snippet was a far more substantive commentary on the “before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem” quote and its attribution to Freud. A QuoteInvestigator.com attribution check, titled “Before You Diagnose Yourself with Depression or Low Self-Esteem… Sigmund Freud? …,” explained that readers had been asking about the veracity of the attribution at least as far back as October 2013.
The entry began with a submission from a reader, who offered that the “ascription to Freud is unlikely.” QuoteInvestigator.com explained that the earliest iteration of the quote (sans attribution to Freud) was in January 2010, tweeted by since-suspended user @debihope and archived here:
The statement from @debihope was retweeted and moved through the electronic realm. Sometimes the message was transmitted without an identification and/or awareness of the source. When messages are replicated and retransmitted origins can become opaque.
One of the influential retweeters was William Gibson, and the very act of retweeting produced a linkage between the saying and his name. It is important to note that Gibson was not attempting to deceive anyone about the source of the statement; he was simply sharing information via a retweet. Nevertheless, quotations are often reassigned from lesser-known individuals to well-known individuals.
QuoteInvestigator.com included a popular 2011 tweet using @debihope’s phrasing, lacking any attribution:
Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.
— Steven Winterburn (@5tevenw) February 28, 2011
In October 2014, @debihope responded to QuoteInvestigator about the origin of the quote (archived):
@QuoteResearch Popped right out of my own head and based on a past boyfriend.
Despite the attribution being clarified in 2014, memes attributing the “before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem” quote to Freud persisted in spreading — appearing once again on Imgur in June 2021. As explained in the 2014 investigation, the quote’s “ascription to Freud has no substantive support.”