Megan Garber: Abraham Lincoln Did Not Invent Facebook: How a Guy and His Blog Fooled the Whole Wide Internet

Roundup: Talking About History

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

It started with a headline I saw pinging around Twitter yesterday afternoon. Abraham Lincoln, my friends' tweets informed me, had invented a 19th-century version of Facebook.

Yes! This previously unknown tidbit, it turns out, was the discovery of a guy in Milwaukee who had happened to take a day off work -- and then happened (serendipity!) to visit a circus graveyard in Delavan, Wisconsin -- and then happened (serendipity again!) to visit the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois -- and then happend (serendipity some more!) to discover that Mr. Lincoln had once filed a patent application for a newspaper that would, via profiles and updates, "keep People aware of Others in the Town."...

I called David Blanchette at the Lincoln Library. Was there any way this story could really be true? In short: no. "This is a complete hoax," Blanchette told me. The existence of the Springfield Gazette, Lincoln's proto-profile page? "Spurious." The "profile" picture of Lincoln on the page of the Gazette? "They didn't run pictures in newspapers back then." The library's help in making the serendipitous discovery? "We had nothing to do with it."...

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