Over recent years, false celebrity death reports have become increasingly common on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites.
So much so that, nowadays, users often question genuine news reports of celebrity deaths.
In this article, I discuss the different types of fake celebrity death reports that circulate. I also outline an easy strategy for checking the veracity of such reports.
Celebrity Death Hoaxes
Many fake death reports that circulate are simple hoaxes. Unlike the scam versions discussed below, they are not overtly malicious, although they are certainly in very poor taste.
The majority of these hoaxes begin life via an amazingly poor taste website that allows users to pick a “death story” template, add the name of the chosen celebrity, and share the story via social media. The resulting article generated on the site looks at first glance like a genuine news report.
Thus, many people who click a link to the article from a social media message believe the claims to be true and will subsequently share the information with their friends as well.
There are several death templates to choose from, including car accidents, snowboarding accidents, and fatal plunges from cliffs in New Zealand. It is unclear why some people are motivated to prank their friends into believing that a fellow human being has met a nasty and untimely demise. But, apparently, some people find such pranks amusing.
Celebrity Death Scams
Other variants of the fake death reports are in facts scams rather than hoaxes. Typically, these social media driven messages claim that a celebrity has died and invite you to click a link to view video footage related to the death or read a “breaking news” report.
In many cases, the links lead to fake pages that try to trick you into first sharing the bogus report with your friends and then participating in suspect online surveys. Some versions may also try to trick you into installing rogue Facebook applications or malicious browser plugins.
Some are tech support scams that will lock up your browser with a popup window that claims that your computer has a virus infection and you must urgently call a number to seek technical assistance. If you call the listed number, the criminals will try to trick you into providing your credit card details, ostensibly to pay for your computer to be fixed. You may also be tricked into downloading remote access software that will allow the criminals to install malware on your computer and steal your personal and financial information.
Yet more versions of these celebrity death scam messages may redirect you to compromised websites that harbour malware.
In some cases, reports that start out as just hoaxes are later redeployed as scams. If a death hoax begins circulating virally, scammers may decide to capitalise on its “success” by creating a scam version.
If you receive a celebrity death report that you suspect may be untrue, do not click any links it contains. Instead, investigate the report as detailed in the next section.
Verifying Death Reports
Thankfully, it’s actually quite easy to check the veracity of any celebrity death reports that come your way. If a celebrity really does die, mainstream media outlets around the world rapidly latch on to the story.
So, visiting a news aggregator site such as Google News and performing a search on the celebrity’s name will usually be enough to reveal if a report is true or false.
If true, there will likely be several reports about the death from different news outlets. Even if the person is a lesser-known celebrity, a bit of searching will likely reveal at least a few reports about his or her demise.
Conversely, if a circulating death report is false, then the only legitimate news articles about it will be those dismissing the rumour as a hoax.
Reverse Celebrity Death Hoaxes
In a bizarre reversal, at least one fake-news site has begun claiming that genuine celebrity deaths are actually hoaxes. Thus, when a celebrity really does die, the site will publish an article claiming that reports about the death are just a hoax.
This causes even more confusion among users.
But, again, a quick search via legitimate news outlets will quickly reveal the truth of the matter.