Celebrity death hoaxes appear to be a popular pastime for many social media aficionados. Internet hoaxes have long been an issue. Remember when email forwards were the choice of spreading rumors? Back in the day, long before there was a Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, emails containing hoaxes had a tendency to spread like wildfire, however social media takes information sharing to extraordinary levels.
Twitter seems to be the one of the most popular networks of choice that fraudsters tend to turn to in order to share news of celebrity “deaths”. The year 2010 saw many celebrity “deaths”. In December alone many popular stars were rumored through Twitter to have passed on due to illness, accident or other untimely demise. All of the death reports turned out to be nothing more than a hoax. This trend has continued through current times, with many being recycled rumors.
Consider the hoax that stated Morgan Freeman passed away. On Dec.16, 2010 a tweet, purportedly sent from CNN, stated, “Goodbye to another one of the greats RT @CNN: Breaking News: actor Morgan Freeman has passed away in his Burbank home.”
The tweet was immediately forwarded multiple times and the rumor rapidly circulated the Twitter network. CNN did not originate the tweet, but when people saw the “[email protected]”, they automatically assumed Freeman’s “death” was breaking news. In reality Freeman was alive and well and, Stan Rosenfield, the actor’s publicist, quickly confirmed this news. This did not occur however before countless Twitter members were duped by the hoax.
Actor Charlie Sheen was also determined to have met an untimely death over the Christmas 2010 holiday weekend. Allegedly Sheen had lost control of a snowboard while in Switzerland and crashed into a tree. The New York Daily News reported Sheen’s ex-wife Denise Richards quickly put a squash on the death hoax by tweeting “The rumor about Charlie Sheen is not true. He is alive and on his way over to see his daughters. Thank u all your concern (sic).”, but not before the “news” reporting the fake accident was propagated through both Twitter and Facebook.
The next celebrity death hoax in December 2010 was the legendary Aretha Franklin. AOL had reported:
“Aretha Franklin underwent a successful surgery earlier this month at a hospital in Detroit, Mich. to treat an undisclosed ailment, with subsequent reports suggesting she has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Fueled by Twitter rumors, Franklin’s ailing health led to incorrect online reports stating she had passed away over the holiday weekend, but her spokesperson has vehemently denied the claims, telling Gossip Cop, “Aretha is fine.”
Next on the celebrity death hoax circuit was Adam Sandler, this rumor circulated almost immediately after the death reports about Aretha Franklin were confirmed untrue. On Dec. 28, 2010 rumors spread like wildfire over the Internet that the popular comedian met the same fate, practically word for word, as Charlie Sheen did. This rumor did not originate on Twitter, but on “Global Associated News”, a prank website where users create fake stories using pre-determined templates. PopCrunch reported “Adam Sandler is alive and well, despite the death hoax rumor that Sandler had died in a snowboarding accident.”
Over the course of 2010 Lindsay Lohan, Bill Cosby, and Justin Bieber were also among those victims to fake celebrity death hoaxes on Twitter that year.
As the popularity of social networking continues to explode, social networks have, in many ways, become a place where people turn to in order to find out what’s going on in the world. While emails were fast, social media postings, updates and tweets can theoretically spread to thousands in an instant, no email address needed. When celebrity deaths make their way into the networks people have a tendency to forward them quickly, especially if the news appears to come from a “real” news source.
Reliability becomes a serious issue now that people often turn to their favorite social media sites to learn information.
The bottom line is, when these reports pop up on Twitter or any other social media platform, a general good rule of thumb is to not forward the “news” until verified. Verification can be done rather quickly, simply plug the celebrity name into a favored search engine, and if it is true, chances are the news reports will show up first in search results or in Google News. If not through a search, check Snopes.com or some other reliable hoax busting site. If the death report is a true one, chances are several reliable news sources will be quickly reporting it.
The year 2010 was a popular year for celebrity death hoaxes on Twitter, and subsequent years saw more hoaxes on the network, with many rumors spreading on other networks too (such as Facebook). Since then numerous other celebs were also purported to have died in a variety of ways on various websites.
So why do people spread celebrity death hoaxes?
Sadly, there are those that feel these fake Twitter celebrity death rumors are funny. For most people, though, they probably find these hoaxes anything but amusing.
Leigh has been writing on the web since 2007. She has a high interest in business, tech, higher education, and Washington D.C. and Northern Virginia travel, but loves to write about a variety of topics. In addition to writing on Writedge, she also runs a blog about the Washington DC Metro Area and a photography blog Photos by Leigh Goessl.