Internet hoaxes come and go every day, but only a handful of these carefully crafted shenanigans spread like a virus, becoming the top story on major news aggregates such as Hackerne.ws and Digg. Even more controlled news sites ran the Abraham Lincoln story, not wanting to be left behind in this quick-to-print news cycle we live in today.
Did Abraham Lincoln Invent Facebook in 1845?
No, Abraham Lincoln did not create Facebook. This rumor was started by a Nate St. Pierre, no stranger to pulling the wool over the Internet’s eyes. In his blog post dated May 8, 2012, he told a story about how he came across a patent filed by Abraham Lincoln in 1845. St. Pierre described the patent application as being a single-sided newspaper that featured a single individual complete with a photo in the upper-left corner, basic information, quick status update-styled blurbs, and a series of longer stories written to reflect personal experiences from Honest Abe, himself.
His story seemed quite convincing. He followed all the basic rules of lying. He sidetracked his story and gave enough of a background to his discovery to answer the most obvious doubting questions. Unfortunately for the larger Internet, the story turned out to be a complete fabrication.
His follow-up blog post created two days later on May 10, 2012 cleared the air. He detailed how he framed the story, and why he posted it in the first place. Like many Internet hoaxes, his primary inspiration for crafting this particular story was to draw attention to his personal brand as he launched a new consulting service. If your particular area of expertise revolves around gaining attention, he may have proven his point.
Abraham Lincoln may not have filed a patent for a newspaper that closely resembles a Facebook profile, but the idea seemed plausible enough to pass the sniff test for most of his site’s many visitors that day. It wasn’t until hours after the post went viral that he started seeing “hoax” comments in the thread. In fact, he states in his follow-up post, “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 third hour or so. One guy questioned it pretty severely, but then he deleted his own comment. I think he wanted the fun to continue.”
Other Presidential Hoaxes
Sometimes, hoaxes are rooted in a desire to cast fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) on a political figure. The president of the United States is usually the biggest target as he’s the single most recognizable face in American politics. There are plenty of cases where someone starts an email campaign that is easily circulated around communities as it makes its way around the global phone tree again and again.
In many cases, these hoaxes evolve with the time. Where one president might be targeted in the original message, a strikingly similar hoax circulated years later might feature the next person in line for the big chair.
Here are a few of these hoaxes.
Obama’s Left-Handed National Anthem Salute
A photo circulated the Web some time ago, apparently showing the president and first lady with their left hands over their hearts during the singing of the national anthem. This hoax is sure to strike a nerve with true-hearted patriots everywhere, if only it weren’t a complete fabrication.
The upper-half of President Obama’s torso had been flipped, with contrarian evidence conveniently cropped entirely from the image. If you look closely, you can even see just how cartoon-like his wedding band looks, drawn on his hand in order to support the case that he is, in fact, using his left hand to cover his heart.
This isn’t the first time a politician has been the target of a flipped-image. Senator Tom Daschle was also flipped during a salute, though the originators of that hoax took a lot less care to fix certain details such as the side buttons appearing on a man’s jacket.
Obama Salute Image Source: Unknown
President George W. Bush Arrested in Canada
Not every automated news service picks up on political satire. A post made on the Axis of Logic in 2004 relayed the story originally posted on Information Clearing House and made it all the way to the top of Google News. Yes, a complete hoax about the president of the United States being arrested and dressed in an orange jumpsuit by one of our biggest allies made it to the top of perhaps one of the largest news sites in the world.
Like many successful hoaxes, this one was short-lived, but it managed to fool quite a few people. Why? Because perhaps it played on a subconscious desire that folks have to see political figures who they do not agree with fail.
Apple Patents the Rectangle
The Register, arguably one of the more well-known newsy sites out there, led with a story on April 1st, 2012 claiming that Apple had successfully patented the rectangular shape of its iPhone. In a world where silly patent lawsuits are popping up almost daily, something like this doesn’t sound entirely far-fetched, though it was an obvious April Fool’s joke.
Hoaxes are something that we have to be constantly vigilant about in this crazy, connected modern world. In a space where physical evidence is rarely available, idle thoughts and proven facts are often combined to create a new type of reality.
As we’ve covered in recent posts, scams are easy to pull off in today’s modern Web. If a hoax is particularly appealing to our own emotional or political dispositions, it’s easy to find merit in a story that is actually a complete fabrication by an imaginative storyteller.
At our hearts, perhaps we’re inclined to believe hoaxes because our very culture today has evolved from thousands of years of storytelling, mythology, and exaggerated reporting. We want to see our ancestors and heroes of history continue to thrive and surprise us. After all, it makes the world a little more fun, doesn’t it?
What is your favorite Internet hoax of all time? What about it made it believable (or unbelievable) to you?