If Facebook existed in the 1980s, how would Samantha’s timeline have looked like?

Last updated 2 July 2020. Changes in blue.

Updated 3 February 2020. Changes are in bold.

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was known as “America’s young ambassador for goodwill” for bridging the two sides of the Cold War through her 1982 letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) where she asked him whether his country would launch a nuclear war, his April 1983 reply assuring her that the country would not and inviting her to come to the Soviet Union to “see for [herself that] in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she and her family accepted and undertook in July 1983. This post is the third in a series of retrospectives, which will run until August 2015, the 30th anniversary of her death, along with her father Arthur and six others, in a plane crash in August 1985.

I saw this page (link is now dead) while I was surfing the Internet for articles that could be added to the SamanthaSmith.info archive. Apparently made by an eighth grade student of a school in Maine as part of their class’ “Famous Mainers” project in 2010, the page made me curious what Samantha would have posted had Facebook existed in the 1980s. I believe the student did a good job, but I would like to add to it. (Not making a mockup though, leaving that to someone more skillful.)

Samantha continued to talk about peace and her trip to the Soviet Union in numerous speaking engagements in her country (The Citizen Diplomats chapter earlier linked describes one event) and beyond (in Japan, where she proposed a “granddaughter exchange” by 2001). Had Facebook existed, she may have posted about them as well, probably over and over again. Then again, she probably would not have. By 1985, she was getting weary about it, being quoted in People:

“I urge peace. I’m against all bombs and the MX missile, but I don’t talk about it all day long. In fact,” she adds, sounding like the 12-year-old she is, “I don’t talk about it much at all.”

I’m guessing these posts would have attracted heated comments between critics and admirers (or, haters and fans). Alternately, she could have just limited her timeline to “friends”, and limited “friends” to people she actually knew and interacted with in a daily basis.

Samantha Smith, 1983

If Instagram existed in the 1980s, maybe she would have posted on it too (Source: SamanthaSmith.info, Alamy)

Samantha might have more likely shared pictures of places she had visited, the Soviet Union (in fact, her book might not have been made had Facebook existed back then), Japan, and (thanks to Lime Street) the United Kingdom and Hollywood (in Disneyland maybe? Those pictures were taken in an “L.A. movie lot”).

She might have also posted some behind-the-scenes shots on Lime Street, or alternately, she might have been tagged to pictures uploaded by others which included her (on talks most likely, maybe also on chance encounters). She might have also shared:

Or, she might have chosen to share plain things: like (a) sleepovers with friends (her “notion of a good time,” from People, 9 September 1985), (b) dislike of homework (from Citizen Diplomatsp. 15), (c) her pets (she had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever for a best friend, from Citizen Diplomatsp. 15; this page also has pictures of her with puppies from winter 1985), (d) or softball.

Yes, Samantha was a softball player; she was a catcher on her team, the Malacites. Her book Journey to the Soviet Union included this passage:

After we got back from California, I had to finish the fifth grade and start practice with my softball team. I played catcher or shortstop on the team and that spring we had a great season. When I tried real hard to hit a home run, I could never do it. Then, when I didn’t think much about it- blam!-I could hit a homer with the bases loaded. It’s hard to relax when everybody is yelling like crazy.

Had Facebook existed in the 1983, I believed this anecdote would have appeared on her timeline instead of on her book. It just seemed out-of-place on the latter.

Maybe she would have shared a slice of pepperoni pizza too. According to Muriel Smith of Daggett’s Market (a shop in Manchester, Maine, where Samantha lived, which may or may not still exist), “She and her father just loved pepperoni pizzas.” (Bonnie Washuk, Journal Staff, “Grieving hometown folks in Manchester console each other”, The Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun, 27 August 1985).

What Samantha might have posted had Facebook existed in her time would have been similar to what her peers might have done, and what 11-13-year-olds do today. Ultimately, she was an “ordinary” girl (at least among Americans), who was thrust into the limelight under “extraordinary” circumstances. (Paraphrasing Nelson Mandela’s quote, “I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances.”, Time, 13 April 1998).