I don’t know about you guys, but yesterday afternoon and last night I kept seeing variations of “Did Abraham Lincoln Invent Facebook?” popping up in my Twitter feed. Naturally, I didn’t click on any of the links attached to such tweets, because — DUH! — Abraham Lincoln obviously did not invent Facebook. Yet, usually smart people, apparently overcome by a crippling desire to believe something fantastical about Abe Lincoln, latched onto this.
It all started when a random guy on the internet named Nate St. Pierre posted a story to his blog about traveling to the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL and discovering something Facebook-y in a newspaper clipping displayed there.
The whole Springfield Gazette was one sheet of paper, and it was all about Lincoln. Only him. Other people only came into the document in conjunction with how he experienced life at that moment. If you look at the Gazette picture above, you can see his portrait in the upper left-hand corner. See how the column of text under him is cut off on the left side? Stupid scanned picture, I know, ugh. But just to the left of his picture, and above that column of text, is a little box. And in that box you see three things: his name, his address, and his profession (attorney).
The first column underneath his picture contains a bunch of short blurbs about what’s going on in his life at the moment – work he recently did, some books the family bought, and the new games his boys made up. In the next three columns he shares a quote he likes, two poems, and a short story about the Pilgrim Fathers. I don’t know where he got them, but they’re obviously copied from somewhere. In the last three columns he tells the story of his day at the circus and tiny little story about his current life on the prairie.
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?
Now, at this point, it’s obviously a stretch to say that Lincoln came up with the idea for Facebook. That’d be like me saying that I came up with the idea for the new Apple HDTV because for years I’ve wanted to be able to talk to my TV and change the channels via my voice. So St. Pierre goes a step further and claims to have found evidence that Lincoln tried to patent this idea. This is where the story gets into “step off Winklevii” territory.
Lincoln was requesting a patent for “The Gazette,” a system to “keep People aware of Others in the Town.” He laid out a plan where every town would have its own Gazette, named after the town itself. He listed the Springfield Gazette as his Visual Appendix, an example of the system he was talking about. Lincoln was proposing that each town build a centrally located collection of documents where “every Man may have his own page, where he might discuss his Family, his Work, and his Various Endeavors.”
He went on to propose that “each Man may decide if he shall make his page Available to the entire Town, or only to those with whom he has established Family or Friendship.”
When contacted by CNET, a Lincoln museum spokesperson called all of this “a complete but clever hoax.” Because of course it is. Photography in newspapers didn’t come around til decades later, after all, in addition to the WHOLE THING BEING RIDICULOUS. Still, as a man who appreciates a good hoax, I have to say — well done Nate St. Pierre.
On another note, what is it about Abe Lincoln that makes people want to build him up even more? He didn’t hunt vampires and he didn’t invent Facebook. Wasn’t freeing the slaves enough for you people?