This holiday season was a big one for false celebrity death reports. Skiing accidents seemed to be the favorite way to see your favorite celebrity die on Twitter, but drug overdoses and mistaken identities were popular too. There have been at least four high-profile (but completely false) death reports on Twitter since Christmas, and we’ll take a look at these rumors below.
Owen Wilson was reported dead on December 30th, having lost control of his snowboard and hit a tree while on vacation in Switzerland.
This news immediately spread to Twitter, and “Owen Wilson” was a trending topic on the 29th, making up about 1% of all tweets at its peak, according to Trendistic.
Charlie Sheen was another celebrity to fall victim to a death hoax that spread on Twitter this holiday. The same website which reported Wilson’s death reported that Sheen also died…in a snowboarding accident… in Switzerland.
While the site doesn’t get any points for originality, it does get some for creating some pretty vile viral news, as reports of Sheen’s death spread across Twitter like wildfire on Boxing Day, eventually forcing his ex-wife, Denise Richards, to deny the rumors:
Aretha Franklin was also victim of death rumors, this time cropping up organically on Twitter. Singer-songwriter Teena Marie passed away on December 27th. Her death was mourned on Twitter, with many fans referring to her by her nickname the “Ivory Queen of Soul”. This became confused with Franklin’s nickname the “Queen of Soul”, which lead to Twitter rumors spreading that she had died as well. While Franklin is recovering from cancer treatment, her representatives say she is alive and well, resting at home.
And lastly, Aaron Carter was reported as dead by drug overdose over the Christmas weekend. Carter himself had to log on to Twitter and diffuse the rumors, saying,
“This is the real Aaron Carter I know there’s a Hoax Going Around, But I’m Here, Alive & Well. At the compound Working on my mind & soul.”
Twitter is a great tool for breaking news, but these stories highlight how easily the network can be harnessed to spread malicious, unwitting or unverified rumors as well.