Internet Hoax! Abraham Lincoln Didn’t Invent Facebook
The Internet echo chamber strikes again! Like so many celebrity deaths and that girl who was “looking for her baby daddy” on Craigslist, the internet was fooled this week by a heartfelt story about Abraham Lincoln patenting a pen-and-ink version of Facebook back in 1845. Blogger Nate St. Pierre claims that he published the story intentionally to prove how easily the media could be fooled, but also that he did not expect the magnitude of the reaction that occurred.
St. Pierre weaves a touching tale about how a random trip puts him on the trail to Honest Abe. A stroll through a “circus grave” (apparently, one of the factual elements of the story) in Delvan, WI uncovers a tombstone where the interred brags about playing poker with P.T. Barnum and Lincoln; a trip to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IN confirms that they were acquaintances; and then the research assistant turns up a most unusual document from the archives: a patent application for a kind of community directory and newsletter where “every Man may have his own page, where he might discuss his Family, his Work, and his Various Endeavors.”
Abe provided a “visual appendix”, showing his own page, complete with a photo, basic personal information, and some recent work and interests.
Put all that together on one page and tell me what it looks like to you. Profile picture. Personal information. Status updates. Copied and shared material. A few longer posts. Looks like something we see every day, doesn’t it?
St. Pierre included hints that the story was a fake all along: invoking P.T. Barnum, he even quotes the man’s Facebook page, describing him as a “scam artist… remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes.” And many have noted that photos would not have been printable in a newspaper in 1845. But really, shouldn’t the whole thing taken together have set off a few alarms?
The article has been shared on Facebook tens of thousands of times; and St. Pierre says his personal blog received more than 50,000 hits for the piece. It was reportedly widely by outlets including Forbes and ZDNet.
What do you think? Did you fall for the story of Abe Lincoln’s Facebook?