The first profile page? No. But the story that Abraham Lincoln had an idea like Facebook swept the Web anyway.
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The first profile page? No. But the story that Abraham Lincoln had an idea like Facebook swept the Web anyway.

Story highlights

Blog post about Abraham Lincoln and Facebook fools the Web

Blogger Nate St. Pierre wrote that Lincoln patented a personal newspaper

The fake paper would feature personal information and "status updates"

He meant it to be a joke, but several news sites reported it as fact

CNN —  

To paraphrase “The Social Network,” if Abraham Lincoln had invented Facebook, he would have invented Facebook.

But in a tall tale that would have made the Great Emancipator proud, a blog post saying that he did just that was making the rounds Wednesday. And some online media outlets were quick to take the bait.

Blogger Nate St. Pierre, a consultant who works with blogs and other Web businesses to help grow their sites, posted a fantastic yarn Tuesday about stumbling upon a tombstone in Wisconsin that ultimately led him to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois.

There, he discovered an 1845 patent filed by Honest Abe for a sort of personalized newspaper in which “every Man may have his own page, where he might discuss his Family, his Work, and his Various Endeavors.”

Each page would feature a profile picture at the top left. The user’s name, address and profession would appear at the top. On a sample page, Lincoln shared two poems he “liked,” a short story about the Pilgrims and details about what he did that day (went to the circus).

“Put all that together on one page and tell me what it looks like to you,” St. Pierre wrote. “Profile picture. Personal information. Status updates. Copied and shared material. A few longer posts. Looks like something we see every day, doesn’t it?”

In short: Lincoln envisioned a paper version of Facebook, 160 years before Mark Zuckerberg.

Except for the fact that none of it is true.

“I just wanted to have fun with it,” St. Pierre said Wednesday. “I’ve done this before. Every couple of years, I do a hoax. I knew this would go big but didn’t expect those dozens of outlets to just run with it without 30 seconds of fact-checking.”

For careful readers, St. Pierre’s post is sprinkled with what should have been plenty of red flags.

For one, he writes that his search began after he discovered an apparent friendship between Lincoln and legendary huckster P.T. Barnum. You know, the guy widely believed to have said, “There’s a sucker born every minute” and “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time.” (Both of those quotes, by the way, may not have actually been said by Barnum.)

He even quotes Wikipedia’s entry calling Barnum “an American showman, businessman, scam artist and entertainer, remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes.”

The tombstone in question supposedly belonged to a carny who brags on it about how he “bluffed” Lincoln and Barnum in a poker game.

And photos like the one shown on the page Lincoln supposedly created wouldn’t appear in newspapers for several more decades.

“I just did it for fun: an homage to P.T. and his hoaxes … and Abe’s tall tales,” St. Pierre said. “Just something fun like that for the modern day.”

But he also wanted to make a bigger point: “That the Internet woul