It used to be that pulling off a celebrity death hoax took time and an elaborate series of subtle clues involving album covers, song lyrics and playing records backwards.
Nowadays, all it takes is one well-timed tweet.
The very real deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson set off a spate of bogus Internet-driven reports of celebrity deaths – including that of Jeff Goldblum, who appeared Monday night on "The Colbert Report" in an absurdist I'm-not-dead-yet bit worthy of Monty Python.
“Do you mind Jeff Goldblum? I'm reporting on the death of Jeff Goldblum!” Colbert snapped in mock annoyance at the interruption.
“Look, I'm not dead,” Goldblum replied
“Jeff, I read it on Twitter,” Colbert responded with smug certainty.
The comedian proceeded to show a very real clip from Australian television reporting that New Zealand police confirmed Goldblum’s death – a frightening sign of how false rumor can make it onto TV as fact.
Recent days have brought phony death reports about, among others, Harrison Ford, Matt Damon, Sean Combs, Ellen DeGeneres and Britney Spears, whose Twitter account reportedly was hacked. Natalie Portman also made the bogus death list – another victim of a celebrity-sucking New Zealand cliff, noted Mashable, which blamed a website that lets users generate real-looking fake news stories by simply inputting a star’s name.
You can’t really fault Twitter here – blame the pranksters and the gullible folks who spread unsubstantiated news.
Some might see the hoaxes as a joke or some kind of commentary on the stardom and the Internet age – but what about the friends and loved ones of celebrities who hear false reports? More troubling, fake stories about weightier topics could be used to spread panic.
Thanks to the speed of the Internet, many of the hoaxes are exposed nearly as quickly as they circulate. The best defenses against pranksters is the old chestnut about not believing everything you read – and, as Goldblum and Colbert proved, humor.
The hoax did offer Goldblum a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to deliver his own eulogy, in which he praised his acting ability – and sexual prowess.
Out of respect for the dead, let’s give him the final word: “When Jeff Goldblum died, a little bit of us all passed away.
“I will be missed.”
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Jeff Goldblum Will Be Missed|
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.