Update 5/10/2012 7:08 a.m.: Nate St. Pierre, the author of the original haox, has posted a ”deconstruction” of the piece, outlining his reasons for writing it, including that he was ”tired of all the same old boring blog posts rolling past me that day,” and that he ”wanted to illustrate one of the drawbacks to our ‘first and fastest’ news aggregation and reporting mentality, especially online.”
St. Pierre makes it clear that the hoax was, partially, a self-promotion effort. He also outlines the news organizations taken in by the hoax as well as the ones that reached out to him by phone or e-mail before running with the story.
“I can tell you that virtually nobody checked with me to ask if it was true,” he writes. “I think I got a few tweets and one email the whole day asking about the veracity of the article.”
And this isn’t St. Pierre’s first online hoax. In the post, he writes that he only ”’[pokes] the internet’..every 2-3 years or so.” with his latest hoax, prior to Lincoln, being the hijacking of the Fast Company Influence Project. It will be interesting to see if everyone gets the joke next time.
Original Post: Nate St. Pierre has had probably one of the best Web ‘gotcha’ moments this week (and it’s only Wednesday). On Tuesday, St. Pierre posted a piece titled “Abraham Lincoln Filed a Patent for Facebook in 1845.”
Cue the Buzz Machine, and send it into overdrive!
The post has been shared over 12,000 times on Facebook and been tweeted 1,065 times with 245 shares on Google Plus. News outlets carried it, and who knows how many e-mails were sent with headlines blaring “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS?!”
But it was all a hoax — a very intentional and, if I do say so myself, well-crafted hoax.
I spoke with Dave Blanchette, the Communications Manager for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library And Museum. “Everything in there is fictitious...except Abraham Lincoln was a man,” he said flatly on a phone call — one of many he says he has received over the past 24 hours. Shortly after the post went live on St. Pierre’s blog, Blanchette said visitors at the museum were asking staff members what was up. While it’s true that Lincoln was the only U.S. president to ever hold a patent, it wasn’t for a Facebook clone.
“Anytime you use the name of Abraham Lincoln it garners attention,” said Blanchette. But, this particular claim, Blanchette said, “is new.”
Now, wait a minute.
Before you hit the ”send” button on that hate e-mail to St. Pierre, read the next line.
St. Pierre did it all on purpose.
“It’s a hat tip to P.T. Barnum’s hoaxes and humbugs and Abe Lincoln’s tall tales,” St. Pierre said Wednesday. “It’s a piece of fun.”
And, if you read the piece carefully you’ll see the hat tips — clues to debunking the hoax. “I gave you what you needed right in front of you,” he said.
“People still think there are some parts that are true, but it’s just one little story,” said St. Pierre who is eager to make clear that he and he alone is behind the work of fiction, which took him five hours to write. “I thought people would call it out from the beginning.”
“In today’s fast, break-neck speed of Web stuff,” said St. Pierre, ”people are quick to share without verifying,” he continued.
According to St. Pierre, only CNN, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post and, well, me have called him asking what gives, even as other news outlets carried the story, some issuing updates and corrections shortly thereafter.
“I did not expect the big time news sources to run with it,” said St. Pierre.
St. Pierre spent five hours putting the hoax together, including the Photoshop-ing of The Gazette print. According to Blanchette, newspapers couldn’t even print photos during the period St. Pierre describes. St. Pierre says he’s in the process of writing the deconstruction of the piece, “so that people can learn how the Web works and how blogging can affect it.”
As for the actual photo of Lincoln (not Photoshopped on to the Gazette cover), it’s legitimate, Blanchette wrote in a follow-up message, “It is a reverse image of the earliest known photo of Lincoln. So yes, it is authentic.”
If you got burned by St. Pierre’s hoax. Don’t feel bad. It happens to the best of us. But it’s a reminder of not only how fast information moves online, but how quick we are to believe what we read there. In the case of St. Pierre, the false factoid is relatively innocent. Think of St. Pierre’s hoax as a big “caveat emptor” reminder when it comes to facts and figures on the Internet.
“It’s a lot better learned from something like this,” he says, “than from a [computer] virus.”
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