By James Kelly
Feb. 3, 2014
Jack Webster awoke like he did any other morning, only to learn he was dead.
According to online teen social hangout Habbo Hotel, he had been in a car accident the night before and was killed instantly.
Webster is one of many people to fall victim to death hoaxes and the ability of social media to spread them quickly through the internet. Many times it is a celebrity that falls victim to this type of hoax. Webster is just an average man.
In 2013, celebrity Megan Fox was reported dead. People started posting ‘R.I.P. Megan Fox’ on their Twitter and Facebook accounts. One person starting a rumour had turned into a full-blown hoax. Fox was fine.
Such hoaxes seem like a joke to some, but to families of people, it can be another story.
Webster said he was not too concerned at the time he was reported to be dead, as he had contacted his friends and they knew he was not almost immediately.
Social media creates a secret environment for those who start hoaxes, he said.
“With all these social media websites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s almost impossible to stop them from happening. People can be anonymous, or even start it by simply saying: ‘I heard somewhere that so-and-so died.’ This makes it really hard to track down the original source, and it makes things so much easier to start, without consequence.”
Keir Lambert of Doaktown, N.B. suspects celebrities may use death hoaxes as a way to get publicity.
“It could be a possible publicity stunt by the person in question,” he said.
“If a celebrity starts to go under, people stop buying their movies/music, they need to get known again. If a rumour gets out that they’re dead, people look it up, see that it’s a hoax and think: ‘Wow, he makes some pretty good music, and he’s coming out with a new album. I should go buy it.’”
Blake Speight from Chelton, P.E.I. said celebrities probably do not mind the hoaxes.
“I think they see it as being to their favour, because even if it wasn’t intended to draw attention to them and their work, it will.”
Speight has fallen victim to the hoaxes in terms of believing them. It doesn’t last long.
“I’ve seen a few celebrity ones on Facebook or Reddit, but a quick Google search always clears it up.”
In 2010, BBC Radio West Midlands announced Queen Elizabeth II had died, after playing God Save The Queen. This turned out to be a user on Facebook who had the same name as the Queen.
Though social media allows people to spread hoaxes quickly, the phenomenon has been around for years.
Mark Twain had been pronounced dead in 1897, and again in 1907. Twain reportedly replied, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”