The 'Death' of Willie Nelson, Judd Nelson, Eddie Murphy, Jeff Goldblum, et al | The Importance of Verifying Sources on the Internet

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by: Mark Rosch
Note this story was first posted in 2010. Updated April 12, 2015.

Willie Nelson is not dead Judd Nelson is not dead
Despite widely shared reports on the Internet, neither Willie Nelson nor Judd Nelson are dead. Upon closer investigation, the msMbc.co site that hosts the Willie Nelson story appears to have no other pages that the one with the false story about singer Willie Nelson's supposed death. It IS NOT the site of the msNbc.com cable news channel MSNBC.

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Please, please, please check the source for the fantastical stories you find on the Internet.

 

UPDATE 12/30/2010: The same site is now behind an "Eddie Murphy dies in a snowboarding accident" hoax. Eddie Murphy is not dead. Stories reporting the death of Eddie Murphy are incorrect.

 

Apparently, the same story has also been attributed to Owen Wilson. It's still not true! 

 

 

In our live Internet research MCLE presentations we repeatedly stress the importance of verifying not just the veracity of the information we find on the Internet, but also the trustworthiness of the sources themselves.

 

Today, June 25, 2009 is a perfect example of why this is so important.  This morning Farrah Fawcett died.  For hours, mainstream news sources obituaries and published retrospectives on her life and career.  Fawcett had been battling cancer for some time, so her death, while tragic, was not completely unexpected.

 

Later in the day the news flashes began that Michael Jackson had been rushed to the hospital.  With only the slimmest facts, sites alternately reported that he was "not doing well," "in a coma," dead," or some combination of these conditions.  Whether through superior reporting, faster typists, or a willingness to report "news" from a single source, celebrity gossip site TMZ.com was the first to report that Jackson had died.  It was approximately a half-hour before other mainstream news sources like the LA TImes, Associated Press, ABC News, etc. reported their own confirmed versions of the death of Michael Jackson.

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I include all of the foregoing as background.  Not because a "gossip" site beat out "major" news organizations to report the day's biggest story, but because of the unsubstantiated rumor mill these stories spawned.

 

Within about an hour of Jackson's death being reported, posts began appearing on Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media sites with news of the death of George Clooney, Jeff Goldblum, or Harrison Ford.  If you believed everything you read on these sites then the apocalypse had surely come to Hollywood.  The only problem was that none of these posts were true.

 

From this vantage point, it's easy enough to say, "Of course that can't be true. Who would believe what they read in a tweet?"  But, most of these messages were accompanied by links to "news stories" that "reported" these very events from the very official sounding "Global Associated News."  Many of the posts came from reputable professional individuals who otherwise should have known better, but they too received the links from individuals they had relied on in the past for useful information.  Some passed the rumors on more in an effort to verify them - in the vein of "Is it true that Jeff Goldblum is dead?" The repetition of the stories and links reached such a pitch, that the top results for searches in Google News for "Jeff Goldblum" were reports of his supposed death.

 

That these rumors were all (eventually) proven to be false is one clear indicator that "Global Associated News" does not have the reporting skills or trustworthiness of even TMZ.com.  This all would have been so much easier if any of the people who had read the "Global Associated News" stories had taken the time to scroll down to the bottom of the page.  Very clearly, the pages were marked with the legend, "this story was dynamically generated using a generic 'template' and is not factual. Any reference to specific individuals has been 100% fabricated by web site visitors who have created fake stories by entering a name into a blank 'non-specific' template for the purpose of entertainment."

 

These are really extreme cases of not verifying one's sources, but remains an excellent example, nevertheless.


 

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