Just so you know…

…’I’m not dead yet,’ say stars killed off in online rumour frenzy
For those struggling to keep track:
Dead: Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon, Billy Mays and David Carradine.
Not Dead: George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, Rick Astley, Jeff Goldblum, Britney Spears, Ellen DeGeneres and Natalie Portman.
The recent spate of celebrity deaths has fuelled fake alerts of dead stars, who have had to issue denials about the exaggerated reports of their demise.
There are three main ways these arise. First, there are several long-running rumours that seem to be recycled every few years. Jeff Goldblum dying on a set in New Zealand seems be an old rumour ñ in the past, Tom Hanks was targeted ñ that resurfaces every few years.
New technology is also causing problems, as people pass along breaking news, often without verifying the information. There are many websites where it is possible to plug in a celebrity’s name and it will spit out a realistic parody news story that looks like a real web news page. says the site was responsible for the false Clooney rumours.
Then there are the hackers, who are also getting in on the action. Twitter accounts seem to be particularly sensitive, as Spears, DeGeneres and Cyrus reportedly had their accounts on the microblogging service hacked, with fabricated tweets of their demise.
Luckily, there is also a cottage industry of websites in the business of debunking these false reports. is a repository of urban legends and how these rumours come about. is another good site examining this phenomenon and recently had a blog post noting it’s not just an Internet thing: a news story in The New York Times in April 1945 detailed a flood of celebrity death rumours following president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death.
The dubious claims of death are so pervasive, they have already been co-opted by malware writers.
“Every time a disaster happens or news about some celebrity reaches the media, malware writers try to take advantage of it,” wrote McAfee researcher Guilherme Venere in a blog posting. “Watch out for spam offering links to `news’ or `pictures’ of deceased celebrities.”
The lesson here is, when in doubt, use a search engine to confirm first and forward later.