Celebrity death rumors spread online

By | July 6, 2009

Pop star Britney Spears was among those falsely claimed to be dead recently.Despite what you may have read, Jeff Goldblum, Natalie Portman, George Clooney, Britney Spears, Harrison Ford and Rick Astley are alive.

Fake news of their deaths flew across the Internet — particularly on online social networks like Twitter and Facebook — after Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon were reported dead.

The situation is calling attention to the changing state of the news media: As information online moves faster and comes from more sources, it’s more difficult to verify what’s true and what may be shockingly false.

Some have downplayed the situation, saying the rumors are not harmful. Others find the situation offensive in light of the actual deaths last week.

Internet-savvy readers can tell the difference between fake news and real information that has been verified by a trusted blogger or mainstream news reporter, said Gabriel Snyder, managing editor at Gawker, a celebrity news and gossip blog not associated with the rumors.

“It’s easier than ever to publish stuff, and the human condition is a complicated thing. Some people just like to be responsible for starting something,” he said, noting that the trend is not especially new.

Others say the fake deaths, or “death pranks,” show an inherent problem with the decentralization of news on the Internet.

The man who claims indirect responsibility for several of the recent fake celebrity deaths is Rich Hoover, whose site, fakeawish.com, allows users to input celebrity names into five false news templates with outlandish stories about their deaths.

Hoover said the site’s fans used its story-generation power to start rumors that Goldblum, Ford, Portman and Clooney had died. Traffic on his site jumped from a few thousand users per day to about 500,000 in the two days after Michael Jackson’s death, he said.

via Celebrity death rumors spread online – CNN.com.

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