This one tops the alleged claim by Al Gore that he invented the Internet. (He didn’t, by the way.) Earlier this week, a blogger named Nate St. Pierre posted a lengthy tome about how Abraham Lincoln invented Facebook.
St. Pierre wrote that, on a day-off visit to the late president’s museum in Springfield, Ill., he found an 1845 patent application in Lincoln’s name. In it, Abe suggested a single-page newspaper tailored to the individual reader, with status updates and comments from friends—in short, a print version of today’s massively successful social media forum.
The story took off, getting shared thousands of times on Facebook and showing up on news media sites such as Forbes and ZDNet. It seemed like yet another reason to admire one of our greatest presidents.
The problem is, the tale was a complete hoax.
Forbes quickly yanked the article. Other outlets updated the story once the hoax was revealed. St. Pierre later posted a follow-up in which he explains why he penned the prank—a combination of playing the jokester and pointing out the media’s willingness to jump on stories without checking facts.
While one can debate whether a joke like that is appropriate, I do think St. Pierre makes a good point about the evolution of news reporting—from the much-cited mindset, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out first,” to the current “be first or be irrelevant.” Copy editors were among the first to be axed when newspapers started to contract. Reporters are posting stories directly to the web, often without editorial oversight, and often with incorrect facts and glaring grammatical errors.
Of course, there’s no going back to the old way, where reporters and editors had the time and resources to verify every detail of their source material. And to be sure, most media outlets do make efforts to check their facts, and to make corrections quickly when required. But the sad reality is, so long as we live in a world where news and information are in immediate demand, we’ll see more examples like the Lincoln ruse.
Therein lies a lesson for those of us in public relations, too. We need to be sure our facts are absolutely correct and clear when we work with journalists. They’re under enormous pressure to post their stories quickly; we can help by being credible, accurate sources.
And for the record: There is no truth to the claim that Honest Abe also invented LinkedIn. As in “Abraham LinkedIn.” (Thank you, thank you, I’m here all week….)