Anatomy of a Hoax: How Abraham Lincoln Invented Facebook

by Nate St. Pierre on May 10, 2012

Update: Because this little adventure was so much fun, I turned it into a whole new project: Nate’s Team. Now you can join me and learn to do stuff like this too.

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Two days ago I told the internet that Abraham Lincoln Filed a Patent for Facebook in 1845, and the internet believed it.

This article will do two things: 1) give a short answer to the main questions generated by the original story, and 2) deconstruct the entire experience for anyone wanting a peek behind the scenes.

The Short Answer

The original story is 100% fabricated. It’s a tip of the hat to P.T. Barnum’s celebrated hoaxes (or humbugs) and Abe Lincoln’s tall tales. Absolutely nothing in it is true, except for the existence of the circus graveyard and the Lincoln Museum, both of which I would like to visit someday. The main image is a (very poorly) Photoshopped copy of a newspaper from Massachusetts. This was meant to be an easy one to debunk – there are clues throughout the entire article telling you it’s a hoax (detailed in the second part of this article).

I wrote it for a few reasons. Here they are, in order of importance:

  1. I wanted to do something fun that would make me (and others) laugh
  2. I was tired of all the same old boring blog posts rolling past me that day
  3. I was officially launching my consulting services the next day, so I wanted a bigger audience
  4. I wanted to illustrate one of the drawbacks to our “first and fastest” news aggregation and reporting mentality, especially online

This isn’t my first rodeo in the “poke the internet” department, but I only do it every 2-3 years or so. The last thing I did on this scale was when I hijacked the Fast Company Influence Project. The one before that I would prefer to remain anonymous on.

I actually spend the vast majority of my time (the bulk of the last three years) doing philanthropy work – building innovative platforms that allow people to make a difference for others. For instance, here’s what I spent 2011 doing, in addition to my day job:

In short, the whole thing was done to have some fun, illustrate a point, and help me with my work. I really do hope you enjoyed it and thought it was a fun read. If you have any other questions, leave ‘em in the comments; I’m sure I’ll respond to some. First one to give me a tl;dr gets a cookie. And if anyone actually reads the whole thing, I’ll give ‘em a dollar.

p.s. Yes, that is me in the picture, and yes, that is how I look when I plan hoaxes . . . and eat in old diners.

The Deconstruction

I’m gonna warn you ahead of time – I’m pretty sure there will be verb tense changes throughout this deconstruction, because I’m going to be dealing with some weird time things, my brain will be jumping back and forth between what I was thinking and writing and what I’m currently thinking and writing, it’s late, I’m tired, and so I think I’ll just do the best I can and let it go at that.

Also it’s long, so here are some jumps to help:
Background | Foreground | Framing | Writing | Expectations | Execution | Results | The Point

The Background

I like hoaxes because they are complex (at least the ones that I enjoy). You know how it’s fun to pull a prank or practical joke on someone? For instance, you’re on a cross-country road trip with your family, and you stop at a fast food place for lunch. Your brother gets a call and puts his phone on the table when he’s done, instead of in his pocket. When he gets up to refill his soda, you slip the phone into your own pocket and tell the rest of the clan to keep quiet. He doesn’t notice, and you all finish lunch and leave.

In the car two hours later you ask him to GPS where you are. He goes to pull out his phone, and . . . hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity, since this is a very low-level prank, but you all get to have a little fun with him for a couple minutes while he’s uncomfortable, yeah? Then you give him his phone back, he’s relieved, you all repeat the best joke of the moment, and this time he laughs with you. No damage done, just a little fun.

That’s what a hoax is to me, except you get to work on a much larger scale. The challenge is to play a practical joke on as many people as you can. In this case, the entire internet.

Of course you also have to play by the rules, which adds to the difficulty. Because the prank version of a hoax is not a lie. It’s a short-term, reversible scenario, done for a specific reason (usually to make people laugh or think). You will be found out, hopefully by your own admission at the proper time, and the biggest trick of all is to not look like a complete jackass when that time comes. I made a mistake when I pulled the hijack a couple years ago, and came out looking less-than-stellar. Granted, that wasn’t a hoax, it was actually something I was trying to do for good, but it looked like a hoax gone wrong while covering the tracks of trying to win a silly game (that won’t make sense to most people, but don’t worry about it.) You learn as you go, though.

Once you’re done, the people you’ve sucked into the game shouldn’t be upset. They should be laughing along with you, or amused at your cleverness, or thoughtfully considering the point you made. Of course, some people are going to be angry because that’s how they are. But as we all know, haters gonna hate, especially on the internet, and there’s not too much you can do about it. Personally, I choose to ignore it. For the other 80% of us, however, we should all be smiling when it’s over.

The Foreground

Monday was an off day for me. Deals were falling through, people weren’t responding, income was slow, the internet was putting out a ton of lame posts, and I was in a perpetual state of crabbiness. By the time evening rolled around, I decided I was going to do something just for me. Something fun.

Earlier in the day I had been playing around writing funny dialogue for famous historical figures with a writer buddy of mine, David Duhr of WriteByNight. I had suggested placing said figures outside of their usual elements, for instance, interacting with modern-day technology. He said he didn’t want it to end up like Bill & Ted, and I agreed.

When I sat down at my kitchen table at 9:30pm, I was (crabbily) thinking about putting Abraham Lincoln in some sort of interesting scenario. For some reason he’s a really cool guy to write for (see: Vampire Hunter references). I took Duhr’s advice in not putting him in touch with modern-day technology, but I still wanted to play around with the idea.

I started doing some research on Lincoln, specifically Springfield, where I knew he lived and there was a museum dedicated to him. I think it was then that I came across the Springfield (Massachusetts) Gazette in Google Image Search, and I realized that I could probably mess around with it a little bit and turn it into a halfway believable early version of a Facebook page.

From there it was just a short leap to decide that Lincoln himself would be the original creator of Facebook, and had filed a patent for it way back in the mid 1800’s, belittling the arguments between Zuck and the Winklevi in the modern day. I loved it.

At that point I realized that I had more than a short story idea – I had the potential for a hoax.

The Framing

If Lincoln were responsible for creating the first version of Facebook, how awesome would that be? As soon as you turn the idea over in your mind, you realize how much you want it to be true, for so many reasons. The sheer fun of knowing that good ol’ Abe scooped the whole 21st century would be enough to make people giddy. So I already had the first element of a good hoax: something that people want to be true.

But if I wanted to turn this into something big, what would be the point? There always has to be a point. For my first global hoax (which I’m not going to go into here), the point was to get people to think about a very serious topic, and it worked. There’s nothing really serious about Lincoln inventing Facebook, though, so the other option is going for the laugh at the end. I thought about it for a few minutes and decided that if someone told me this story, and then I later realized it wasn’t true, it wouldn’t be terribly funny, just a bit disappointing.

So how would I get people laughing along with me at the end, instead of thinking I was just a douchebag who lied to them? As I mentioned, another way to get the good will at the end is to have people be amused at your cleverness. I then thought that if I could lead them to the “discovery” in such a way that was both interesting and entertaining for them, the final disappointment of it not being true in the end would be made up for in the fun they had in getting there.

Additionally, if I could get some of the “real” news outlets to believe it, most people would be amused to see them duped, and I could use it as a lesson as to the downside of the feeding-frenzy mentality of the social web. (Honestly, I didn’t think this would happen on a large scale, but you saw how it went.)

And finally, I had a blog post already scheduled for Wednesday officially announcing my new consulting stuff, so I figured landing with a big splash the day before wouldn’t hurt – I could use it as an example for blogger clients who tell me that they can’t do anything to attract attention without a big platform.

With all that going for it, I decided it’d be worth it to throw another hoax out into the world and see how it went. Now all I had to do was figure out how to present it.

If you just flat-out tell someone that Lincoln invented Facebook, one of two things will happen. The majority of people, used to seeing such stupid things fly by them in today’s information glut, will just say “No he didn’t. You’re an idiot. Go away.” The minority will believe you for a while, but then when they find out it isn’t true, they’ll say “You’re an idiot. Go away.” You have to find a better way to give them the (false) facts.

I decided to tell them a good story.

The Writing

Okay, the goal was to write a story that would lead people to the realization that Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook, and to get them there in a fun way. This recollection may come out a bit jumbled, because I’ll probably throw out some stream-of-consciousness thoughts that came to me as I started to think about writing. Bear with me.

First things first: as everyone knows, if Lincoln had invented Facebook, then he would have invented Facebook! Kudos to all the people who said that in their writeups. They made me laugh. But I couldn’t have him actually succeeding with this invention, because if he had, it would be common knowledge. And I know that most people wouldn’t really know or care, they’d share anyway, but I still wanted to make it something a little more obscure.

I decided on a failed patent application, because that would show his ultimate victory, and he would just end up being viewed by us today as way ahead of his time (I think I wrote something like that in the meta description for the post).

There. We have the final conclusion – we have the payoff for the reader. This is the nugget that they want to share (and we want them to share): Abe files a patent for Facebook in 1845, which pretty much means he invented it.
Now let’s work backwards. How do we bring the reader to this realization in such a way that they’re heavily invested in the outcome, and are not only happy about the payoff, but excited to share it? I thought the best way to go about it was in the “accidental hero” form, told in the first person, letting the reader walk with me (because obviously I need to be the first person, since it’ll be done on my blog) every step of the way, and share in my thrill as I discover it.

We need a series of elements that build excitement. The piece will be long for a blog post, but it’ll probably be too short for victories and setbacks, leading to comeback and ultimate victory. So let’s write it more in a stepwise progression, where each piece builds on the last. More like a treasure hunt.

I know there’s a Lincoln museum in Springfield that I could drive to on a day trip if I had to. A bit farther than is practical, but no one will know that. So I’ll take the day off, head down there, find the patent, and announce it to the world here on the blog (before the museum itself does – that’ll give everything a sense of urgency).

Now we have the basic framework for the whole story, so all that’s left is to build out the treasure hunt AND remember to play by the rules, adding in clues to the meta story (the hoax) as we go, because it has to be evident when people re-examine the story that the signs were there all along, like in a movie.

Also like a movie, you want the story to keep them engaged deeply enough that they A) read the whole thing and B) get to the point of willing suspension of disbelief, so by the end of it they’re rooting for you as they’d root for the hero of the movie. (All the better if the hero could just as easily be any one of them – make it relatable, nothing too fancy).

I was thinking about the clues I needed to put into the story when P.T. Barnum came to mind, because I knew he was a legendary hoaxer. I also knew that he had formed his circus somewhere in Wisconsin. I thought it was Madison, but I looked it up, and by happy coincidence, it was actually in Delavan, which could be right on my way to Springfield. Yes!

While researching the origins of his circus there, I found a link to the circus graveyard, which I thought was fascinating. I decided to make that cemetery my first stop after leaving my house that morning. So now I have my itinerary: leave Milwaukee early, hit the graveyard in the morning, head to Springfield by lunch, spend a couple hours there, then get back home by evening, write during the night, publish in the morning.

I start thinking about the clues I need to drop. There were a lot, but I’ll recount the ones that were in the actual writing:

“You guys are gonna love this story…” From the opening lines we know it’s a story, not a blog post.

“Here’s how it all started…” It’s like saying “Once upon a time…”

Everything P.T. Barnum. I thought the name would probably be enough, but I pulled the whole quote about him from Wikipedia, including him promoting celebrated hoaxes. Then I pulled the “sucker born every minute” quote, which I loved, but thought was over the top. Still, I left it in. And finally, I linked right to his article which, had you looked at it, would have showed you that he started the circus in 1871, well after Lincoln died.

“Bluffed P.T. and Honest Abe with a pair of deuces.” My favorite one. This line, and the accompanying scenario on the gravestone, is what gave me three things: the clue I needed to get down to Springfield, another clue to the hoax, and most importantly, a sense of mystery and adventure that would keep the reader engaged. However, I had to go back and rewrite the beginning to say that I left my phone at home, because I know that if I had really seen that gravestone, I would have taken a picture of it, and it would be shared in the post. Of course this came in handy throughout, as I had no photographic evidence of anything, and I could constantly mourn the fact that I didn’t have my phone this one day, easily relatable to anyone, and building the sense of camaraderie for the “hero.”

I mentioned bluffing one more time, and that was it for the obvious references. But when I got down to the actual patent section, I was going to delete the part where Lincoln was talking about privacy controls, because I thought it was way too over the top and obvious, but I decided to leave them in for good measure. Still didn’t matter.

So now we have our complete story: a random day trip, interesting locations, intriguing connections (Morty besting Abe and P.T. at poker was by far my favorite part of the story), hints at the meta story, a little bit of suspense, and, once the reader has invested probably 6 minutes reading all 2,000 words, and is ready for the hero to win out, they get the HUGE payoff of Abraham Lincoln inventing Facebook. It plays out like a movie! It’s awesome! And he’s one of us! Anyone could have stumbled across that! And he’s just rushed home to type up the story and share it with everyoneanditsgonnabebreakingnewsandeveryonewillbetalkingaboutitomg!!!

And so they click the Facebook share button. Because why wouldn’t you?

Here’s the thing: If you’re gonna go the hoax route, you gotta sell out and go all in. You have to do so much that when people see the first red flag and stop to think about it for a second, they say to themselves, “Selves, this has to be real. There’s no way anyone would spend so much time and effort on something that was fake.”

And that’s where you can be successful, because you do spend the time. It took me 5 hours to write that article. It took me 9 hours to write this one. As with anything else, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

I went to bed at 3:00am on Monday night, happy that I had taken the time to do it right. Tuesday promised to be a much better day. I had a fascinating story that was borderline unbelievable, but with just enough plausibility that it could quite possibly be true, all centered around hot tech and a beloved historical figure. It was a great recipe for shareability.

The Expectations

I thought that social media and bloggers would go nuts with this right away. It’d start spreading before anyone realized what was going on, and of course once that ball gets rolling, it doesn’t stop until further news on the story supersedes it, or the wave of opinion (usually from credible sources) turns it into a known hoax. I just didn’t know how long that would take.

From all the clues I put in there, I thought it would take maybe an hour or so for enough comments to be piled on the site calling it a hoax, and of course those would be voted up by people who actually read the article, and then any legitimate news source that read it would A) figure it out on their own just from reading B) see those comments there or C) do the 30 seconds of fact-checking it would take to debunk the story.

I figured I’d have a blast of a few hundred shares in the first hour or two, maybe a couple of bigger orgs would promote it for a hot minute, and then a few sources would report on the hoax, and the whole thing would rise and fall by afternoon, leaving me with a few thousand pageviews, some kudos from around the web, and nice little day.

I’m not an optimist by nature. I’m much more practical, and these things just don’t usually get that big. It turns out that my expectations were way low. This thing got a lot bigger than I thought it would, and the reason why was one of the original points I came up with while writing it.

The Execution

This part was super simple. I already knew I had gold with this article, since I’d spent so much time crafting a quality piece. I figured it would sell itself as soon as I put it out there. So at 10:00am, my normal posting time, I set it live and put out one tweet, facebook, etc, on my few social media platforms. I also threw out a dozen or so DMs to friends, just for good measure. The message was something along the lines of “Want to have some fun with the internet today? ;) [link].”

After that I observed strict radio silence about the post. I didn’t know how big it would get, or how fast, so I wanted to get a feel for where it was going before I said anything about it. I carried on with most of my normal (public) activities.

Throughout the day as it got bigger and bigger, I knew I’d have to address it. It was becoming “a thing.” But I think I did something really smart, and decided not to say anything about it except to a credible news source (I was getting emails, tweets, and calls from reporters by that time).

I knew I wanted to give it two full days to circulate, then write a follow-up article (this one) for Thursday. My “official” thoughts would be here, and if I decided to speak publicly about it apart from my site, it would only be with the big players, so I could be sure that it was done professionally and hit the most people.

Between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, I did an interview and a podcast with CNN, a phone interview with The Atlantic, and another one with the Washington Post. I figured those would give me all the “official” coverage I needed.

Then I shut down again and started work on this beast of an article. So here we are. Would you like to see the results?

The Results

Pretty much the whole internet picked this thing up and ran with it. I was really surprised that the first shouts of “hoax” didn’t come in the comments section until the 3rd hour or so. One guy questioned it pretty severely, but then he deleted his own comment. I think he wanted the fun to continue.

In addition to social media and bloggers, it ran as fact on a lot of big-name sites and news aggregators. That’s the thing that surprised me the most. I knew it would happen, but I thought only one or two would run it without fact checking, and the rest would shout it down. But only one or two actually caught the joke, and the rest just kept promoting it! It was crazytown for a good long while.

I can tell you that virtually nobody checked with me to ask if it was true. I think I got a few tweets and one email the whole day asking about the veracity of the article. I didn’t answer them because they weren’t from a big news org. The first email I answered was from The Atlantic late in the day, and that turned into an interview in the early evening. The other interviews I did all emailed and/or called me.

That night, with one interview in the bag, I answered a few tweets with short comments saying that I’d post more on Thursday. I did the same all day yesterday. Once this article is live, I’ll start interacting more everywhere.
I ignored all comments on the post, and will continue to do so. Big posts always get big haters, although some did make me laugh, and I did/will email them personally to say hi.

I commented, tweeted or emailed a few of the bigger orgs that ran the original story, telling them that I’d be giving the explanation on Thursday, so they could have a heads-up to update their article. I’ll follow up with them once it’s live, so that their posts will include links to both my original piece and this one, closing the loop on the story.

I emailed the curator of the Lincoln Museum to say I hope I didn’t cause too much trouble (they got a ton of calls from all over the world – news coverage here). He said it’s all good, and invited me down, which I would love to do.

In terms of numbers, it’s pretty staggering. I posted the original at 10:00am on Tuesday, and I grabbed a screenshot at 10:00pm on Wednesday. Here are the numbers after 36 hours live (minus the 2 hours the server crashed from traffic overload), for that one page:

16,000 Facebook Likes

104,463 Unique Pageviews (click to enlarge image)


And that’s just on my website. There are a lot more on all the news sites that reposted their own stories and links. This story definitely went into the millions. Not bad for a quick idea and a five-hour writing session, I think.

Links! Here we go:

If you search any combination of the keywords, you’ll find TONS of sites that linked to the original or discussed the story, etc. I saw hundreds of links on just the second day.

This one was my favorite, from Breaking Copy: Lincoln, Facebook and Journalism. I thought it had the best analysis of what was going on.

My second favorite was from Mashable, who played it cool and waited for the dust to settle before running this article (with video!)

And here are the articles where I actually talked to the reporters on the phone:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/09/tech/web/abraham-lincoln-facebook/index.html
[was actually on the front page of CNN for a while]
[best line: “Lincoln never envisioned creating a way for his contemporaries to share cute pictures of their cats, much less play FarmVille (which no doubt would have seemed less exotic in rural 19th-century America).”]

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/05/abraham-lincoln-did-not-invent-facebook-how-a-guy-and-his-blog-fooled-the-whole-wide-internet/256945/
[this whole article is a great read]
[best line: “So while the Internet, today, is disappointed in St. Pierre ... St. Pierre, for his part, is sort of disappointed in the Internet.”]

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/innovations/post/abraham-lincoln-didnt-invent-facebook-says-the-guy-who-wrote-the-piece-saying-he-did/2012/05/09/gIQAUeUYDU_blog.html
[glad she told people not to send me hate mail]
[best line is the title: “Abraham Lincoln didn’t invent Facebook, says the guy who wrote the piece saying he did”]

As of the time of this writing, it hasn’t even been live for two days yet, so I’m sure some even better articles will come up. And I’ll tell you something else – I’ve done stuff like this in the past, and I’ll do it again, just because it’s fun and I enjoy it. But while I’m here, I may as well make another observation . . .

The Point

Amazing content sells.
You can create it.
I can help.

And that is my final homage to P.T. Barnum, a man who, in addition to being a showman, businessman, hoaxer, author and philanthropist, also knew the value of a little well-placed self promotion.

Goodnight, ladies and gentlemen.

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Related posts:

  • http://www.facebook.com/spfanstiel Sam Pfanstiel

    tl;dr

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      Cookie for you, sir.

  • http://twitter.com/normrobot Norm Scott

    Well done, like a true showman.

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      Ha! Thanks, Norm. 

  • http://twitter.com/BudgetsAreSexy J. Money

    I’m glad you decided to put all this out there – always fun to see what was going through peoples’ heads for these things. Esp when some of us KNOW you and still got tricked! Haha… well played my man, well played. Would much rather read something intriguing than the same lame day to day stuff we see every week for sure, good job.

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      Thanks man, I knew you’d like the peek into the thought process. I wish I *had* taken that day trip, though – I’m certainly gonna go find that graveyard when I have a free day!

  • Lamarrotems

    Win

  • Lamarrotems

    Pure genius, I had never heard of you… Now here I am having spent 20 minutes on your site.

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      I hope you enjoyed a few things, and feel free to share any of the philanthropy stuff – we’ve been able to help a lot of people, and I strive to continue to do so.

  • Diego Millan

    I think it’s fascinating. Given people’s tendency to post and share so fast with little thinking, it speaks how we are complicit in the construction of ‘truth.’ Kony, anyone? Great post, and great execution. 

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      It’s a terribly interesting discussion, I agree. I can’t wait to see how people toss it around over the next week or so.

  • Sarahinmi

    Someone beat me to the tl;dr – but I suspect my cookies are better than yours anyway.

    (Thanks for the fun!)

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      haha

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1119550427 Peeta Whitlaw

    This is a fine example of the need for that critical thinking class I had to take. I am finding as I age, I am having trouble believing anything I see or hear! 

  • http://www.faithpermeatinglife.com Jessica @ FaithPermeatingLife

    Well played, sir. I did think it was borderline believable until I got to the part about privacy settings, and then I knew it was a joke. Exceedingly clever, though :)

    What I love about this is that there IS so much misinformation passed around the Internet daily, but so much of it is put together by people who believe it’s true, and this was done intentionally with a purpose. And unlike much other misinformation, this (if it were true) was more of a cool piece of trivia than something that could potentially harm people’s lives (e.g., “I need to start eating nothing but bananas because the Internet says all other foods are evil!”). So this was a harmless and intentional way of highlighting just how quickly false information can spread, which could then be revealed and dissected soon afterwards.

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      Exactly. This one DOES have a purpose. I’m really interested to hear the discussions around dissemination of information that’ll spring up as a result of this. I don’t necessarily need to be *in* those conversations, but I’m looking forward to seeing them. 

      Thanks for the love!

  • Josh Dissmore

    Well done. *Leans back in chair and slow claps for 30 seconds.* I admit, although I was a bit skeptical, I did share it with my neck of the facebook woods…hoping I wouldn’t look like a jackass. And, well…here we are. Although I’ve never really been a prankster, and don’t find hoaxes to be all that amusing, I have to give you kudos for a very well written story. You had me glued to my screen, and being an American history buff, quite hopeful. I will wait til I see you next to lay down the hate, but for now…nice job.

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      I will accept your kudos for the moment, just as I shall accept the hate you will dole out upon me at the 214 upon my next visit.

  • http://www.facebook.com/darceyo1 Darcey O’Donoghue

    You, obviously, “…can reel Folk in as though [you] had them on a Line.” I also thought the “privacy controls” reference was going perhaps a tad too far; apparently not!  One might suppose these folk would have a bit less credulity (have they not seen “The Social Network”? heard of Photoshop?) but I guess Lincoln is just much easier to “like” than Zuckerberg!  Anyway, good fun with some serious implications…btw, love the Zuckerberg hoodie in your photo!

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      Funny thing about that hood – I’ve been wearing it weekly for 16 years . . . since Zuck was 11. Don’t get me wrong, I love that he rocks it, and Wall Street can shut up and deal with it, but I’m a hood OG, son!

      • http://www.facebook.com/darceyo1 Darcey O’Donoghue

        Wasn’t sure if it was deliberately referential or purely coincidental; hey, it’s perfect! :-)

  • Mrpapaleo

    I will be able to say, I knew Nate back when now….. :-) 

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      Back when what? This is like 6 minutes of fame – it’ll quickly pass. But the fun will continue… :)

  • http://twitter.com/TrinnieSchley Trinnie Schley

    Genius, pure pure genius.  You were my hero before, but now you’re like in superhero status in my eyes!

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      Pssh, have you seen Avengers? Now THAT was awesome use of superheroes!

  • Pingback: Lincoln, Facebook and journalism

  • Lovewokemeupthismorning

    I’m glad gullible people like me give you entertainment. Well done and I tip my hat to you for your cleverness amd sheer awesomeness.

    However…

    You have far too much time on your hands. I mean… Seriously! Who time time to think of these things & actually put it together? That in it of itself is impressive.

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      5 hours is not that much time, really. Most people waste that much in two days watching TV.

      • http://twitter.com/LoveWokeMeUp Emmy

        Truth. ::raising hand:: 

  • Jason Weinrich

    (Slowly clapping my hands while nodding approvingly…which by the way makes this really hard to type).  

  • Lecho

    I can deconstruct it pretty easily.  You’re not creative or original.  You’re just an attention whoring douche. People are stupid and gullible.  The End.

  • http://twitter.com/tkmarnell T.K. Marnell

    I didn’t hear about this story until just now, when my SO sent me a link reporting on the hoax. As I was reading it, I was actually disappointed that I already knew it was a prank, so I couldn’t experience it like a naive netizen and saw the red flags all over the place. The photos being “cut off” was a big one, and the use of “page” for the “Gazette” profiles another. And I used to work at a special library for rare old books and now write historical fiction, too, so I read a lot of 19th century primary docs and something was off in the “patent” language….

    But I think the evolution of the hoax is more interesting than the fake story, anyway. I wish I could manipulate people that successfully, though readers should already know my stuff is made-up when they first see it.

    Also, kudos for being honest about doing it for your own gain. A lot of people wouldn’t have the balls–they’d pretend they really didn’t mean to fool anyone and they’re super sorry if people are disappointed.

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      I appreciate the fact that you respect the honesty there. I know that a lot of people don’t make the same distinction that I do, but in my mind there’s a big difference between pranks or hoaxes, lies, and manipulation. The first two are done in a specific way for a specific reason, and the last two I don’t do.

      And yeah, it takes a lot of time and effort to pull of stuff like this. Mostly I do it for fun, but it doesn’t hurt to tie it in to something else I’m doing in a cool way.

      For instance, I could easily have put some ads on that page before I set it live, and made a bunch of money that way. But I didn’t, because that would go against the spirit of the game. 

      Again, many will see no difference between that and what I actually did, but we all have our personal beliefs and boundaries that we adhere to.

      Glad you enjoyed!

  • Lauren

    You definitely had me snookered, even if it was just until I clicked on the link for this article. That was a great bit if writing, well done. I do, now, however, wanna go find that Circus cemetery… Sounds like a fun adventure!

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      I’m totally gonna go find that cemetery next time I’m out that way!

  • Janna Caywood

    Okay, I’m done with my little pout.  You are a cool guy after all.  I was feeling a little miffed when I learned this was a hoax, for two reasons: 

    1) I felt foolish for having fell for it and for posting it on my FB page (I considered acting like I was in on the joke and was just spreading the fun, but that would not have been honest, so I fessed up);

    2) My hubby is the one who popped my happy bubble.  When I told him he should read the cool post on my FB wall he right away said, “I call bull shit on this” and then did a Google search and discovered this, your explanation post.  Whaaaa?  So I was annoyed that he saw through it and I didn’t (I really hate it when he’s right and I’m not – grrrr). 

    Anyway, upon further reflection I must admit you got us good, and a valuable lesson was learned.  Thanks for taking the time to explain the whole thing, this is what won me over in the end.  I now realize I need to learn to laugh at myself every once in awhile and appreciate true cleverness, even when it’s at my expense (all in good fun, of course).  So, just thought I’d share my reaction arc with you.  I am grateful for the takeaway – I need to be a more discerning consumer of the internet and think before I share.  Here’s hoping your consulting biz is a smashing success!  You’ve earned it.

    • http://natestpierre.me Nate St. Pierre

      Well thanks, I’m glad you approve of my cool guy-hood. ;)

      1) Good call. I do that myself all the time.

      2) Yeah, those guys can pop bubbles in an abrasive way. I am one of those guys, and sometimes I realize that it doesn’t make those around me feel good a lot of the time.

      I’m very thankful that you wrote in to walk through your reaction. It’s always interesting to hear and learn how people interpret things. And I’m glad that the outcome is a friendly exchange here on the blog, rather than something less happy.

      Enjoy your summer – I know it’s been a long winter!

  • http://superduperfantastic.com/ suki

    Well played, sir, well played. 

  • LaraP

    The thing I’m surprised you didn’t mention: Abraham Lincoln DID file an actual patent for a boat-lifting apparatus:
    http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/education/patent.htm

    Thus far, Abe is our only President to hold a patent, even though the device was never produced.

  • Joseph Alessio

    This is frankly hilarious, and you did a great job! Goes to show how incredibly gullible the general internet populace is, anyone who knows history would see through it if they read the article – but well done!

  • Wash

    Late to the party, just heard about this whole story on some website, y’know? But I gave it a read. And it’s worth a few graphs to point something out so the other rubes don’t get bitten.

    The real hoax, of course, is at the bottom of *this* post, where you imply that you can use your skills at creating “amazing content” for good as well as banally bad. But you haven’t done anything, and you don’t have any special insights. The numbers you cite look impressive in a vacuum, but they’re absolutely minuscule in on an internet scale.
    You got lucky in even getting those. There’s basically one rule for low-effort hoaxes, and it’s pretty widely known: claim something counterintuitive that takes some effort to verify. But it’s hit or miss. Rule and corollary, done.There’s no secret here, nothing amazing, and you don’t demonstrate any talents beyond fabulist self-promotion. You don’t actually demonstrate *anything* except that surprising things are interesting, the internet has made sharing things easy and some people are dicks who shouldn’t be trusted. That’s Real Genius, guy. I hope nobody’s gullible enough to pay you to share those secrets (guessing you’ll leave out the last bit, but that can be our *special* secret).But others who get a kick of tricking people will laud you a bit, and you’ll trick some people into thinking you’ve done something interesting, and some those people may pay you to try to do it again, and some of them will luck out and some of them will get burned. But please, don’t trick *yourself* into believing you’ve done anything significant, or that you get a pass on dicking with people because it’s “interesting.”"I tricked you all to demonstrate that you’re all gullible” is an old excuse for being a jerk. PT Barnum was probably just as much of a dick as you. Oh, but you’re both philanthropists, so that makes it all better. Keep it up bro ;) and read up on Stephen Glass, you’d love him.

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  • Chris

    jeez, i can’t believe i JUST found out this was a hoax. glad you took the time to explain, but i have to say it doesn’t make me feel any better about it.  maybe i’m a poor sport, but i’ve never been a fan of practical jokes.  the fact that you explained the joke – and your assertion that it was supposed to make everything ‘all better’ is a cop out, in my opinion. if someone gave me one of those fake winning lottery tickets and got me all crazy-excited, then pulled the rug out from under me, it would not ease my pain to learn how the cards were manufactured. big effing deal – you tricked me into being happy, then called “psych!!”  guess i’m no worse off than when i started, and seriously, lincoln inventing facebook was not going to improve my life like a winning lottery ticket would.  so, whatever….i’m not going to hate on you for doing it, but i’m not going to let you off the hook just because you explained how you tricked me. i WILL congratulate you on getting one over on me (me -the one who constantly admonishes my peers for not checking snopes before posting crap!)  (congratulations!) good luck with your business!

    • http://twitter.com/NateStPierre Nate St. Pierre

      A totally fair response.

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  • http://hiresteve.com/ Steve Foerster

    I can relate, although on a smaller scale. As an April Fool’s joke, I once convinced many in the Open Educational Resources movement that in order to be inclusive to more communities the UN was changing the name to Free/Open Educational Resources Supporting Training Education and Research. Considering my last name, I figured no one would be fooled by my saying they were henceforth to be called FOERSTERs, but I was pleasantly surprised.

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