So, apparently, people really believed that Lincoln somehow envisioned a sort of proto-Facebook. You see, when I say that out loud, it sounds ridiculous. Because it is. In part, I blame journalists and bloggers for getting snookered and repeating the false claims. For most hoaxes, has no one heard of Snopes? You can't put your ATM pin backwards to call for help, that kid does not need you to forward this email and there are no friendly Nigerian princes looking to give people money.
In general, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Except for the fact that the U.S. tried to use bats (you know, furry, cute nocturnal flying creatures) to deliver incendiary bombs during World War II, that is both awesome and true. If it sounds like you're going to get something for nothing, you probably aren't.
This plays just as important a role in history as it does in every day life. Just like people are more likely to believe ridiculous things that fit their biases, we're more likely to believe primary sources if they tell us what we want to hear. Biases can also cause us to ignore some facts over others, like any scholarship that downplays the cornerstone of the Confederacy, in favor of more charming views.
A cynical, weathered eye for hoaxes will help you in almost any part of your life. From spotting people lying on their resumes and plagiarizing other people's work, to simply not getting conned. Good scholarship asks questions and synthesizes the answers to make sure that they not only make sense and are internally consistent, but that they logically follow. It is alright to be wrong, so long as you are willing to readjust when you find out you are wrong.
This doesn't mean to be one of those guys who takes refuge in "just asking questions," but you should be asking questions. Questions are good for the soul. Though, there are stupid questions. Especially if it is something within the public sphere that you are being told. That Lincoln suggested the creation of something similar to Facebook should never have passed anyone's smell test, B.S. alarms should have rang to high heavens. But it didn't; I'm not sure if that is because people are getting duller or more gullible. But you, you can be the vanguard to prevent dulling gullibility from over taking the world.
Ask questions. Do research. Don't believe... right away.
No really. Bat bombs are real. The Bat Bomb which brings us the best quote ever:"We got a
sure thing like the bat bomb going, something that could really win the
war, and they're jerking [around] with tiny
little atoms. It makes me want to cry." Also, still a little time left if you want to read the story that'll go along with the follow-up analysis to this post. It has robot horses and gunfights.