As noted in a blog earlier today, new media, and social media in particular, played a huge part in disseminating the news of Michael Jackson's death yesterday. Chances are most of us heard about it directly or indirectly through Twitter, Facebook or MySpace. It's also worth pointing out that it was a blog -- notorious gossip blog TMZ.com, to be specific -- that broke the actual news of MJ's death, while the old-school media was reporting the "safe" version that he was in the hospital. Time may reveal whether they had an inside source or if they were just guessing, but the bottom line is, they got it right -- this time.
But before we start patting ourselves on the back before announcing the death of old media once and for all, it might behoove us to reflect on the other deaths announced yesterday via Twitter, et al. No, I am not talking about Farrah Fawcett (she's actually dead). I'm talking about Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford and probably a half dozen others that didn't catch on as well as those two.
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Within moments of the MJ news, Twitter was buzzing with the news of their deaths -- the untrue, totally unsubstantiated news of their deaths, based on cheap, clearly fake news articles made to look like Yahoo news pages, quickly generated and thrown online. Somewhere a few hoaxers are having a good laugh about the whole thing, but for the rest of us, it's a good opportunity to see that social media is just that -- social, as in the rumor mill. It's great at dispersing information, not so hot at actual reportage and pretty goddamn terrible at fact-checking. There are unique exceptions -- as in the ongoing saga in Iran, which was conveniently pushed out of the top searches/trending topics by both the real and fake deaths yesterday -- but those are just that: exceptions. So next time a major news story breaks there, take a few minutes to verify it before passing it along.