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When Twitter gets it right, it beats all the major news gathering organisations to the punch with the really big news. I heard about the Haiti earthquake first on Twitter, and it took a fair while for the traditional news networks to catch up. But what happens when Twitter gets it wrong?

Well you get silly rumours such as the death of Johnny Depp becoming the hottest trending topic, as has happened overnight. The trouble being, because Twitter is getting a reputation for breaking big stories so quickly, people are starting to believe whatever is trending. So when right at the top of the trending list is 'RIP Johnny Depp' and this links to thousands of tweets saying things like "OMG NOOOO, JOHNNY DEPP DIED???" and "Johnny Depp is really dead" which in turn link to a news story reporting the car crash which killed him, well, the thing takes on a momentum that is hard to slow down.

But the person who tweeted "Johnny Depp cannot be dead. No. Just no. I won't believe it until I see it properly" was right. You should treat Twitter as the Chinese Whispers of news, lots of reports that could be breaking a major news story but not the actual source of the story itself.

My wife is a woman so perhaps it should come as no great surprise that she fancies the pants off of Mr Depp and ordered me check it out when she heard that he was dead. Thinking that the whole car crash story rang a bell it really didn't take me that long to Google it back to a hoax which first saw light of day way back in 2004 when someone published a mocked up fake CNN story on an Angelfire web community page. You can still see the original hoax story here.

That hoax stated that "Johnny Depp's car was found along side a road outside Bordeaux, France, with the guard rail embedded deep inside the car. A tourist was driving down the road when he saw a car wreck alongside the road. He stepped out and tried to see if anyone was in there while his wife dialed the police for help. To his dismay, he found the a body in the car among liquor bottles. The police arrived at the scene shortly after and pulled out the body of the former actor, Johnny Depp. The police suspect that alcohol was the cause of the accident".

All of which sounds kind of believable, right? Wrong, at least if you read on and see the next paragraph talks about "A source with the British embassy said the entire expedition group is to fly back to London on Friday" and continues with "Among the cavers were four members of the British Navy". All of which proved quite quickly that it was just a bit of very sloppy cut and pasting over a genuine CNN report, but one which caught enough people out not so much because everything online has to be true but rather because they wanted to believe and in so doing be part of the early adopter grieving group for want of a better term. This kind of hoax relies upon the need to be part of the group, to belong to a community no matter how sad the reason for belonging might be.

Which brings us back to Twitter, the ultimate news buzz community of the moment. Where better than to kick start such a hoax, albeit a 5 year old one?

So, just for the record:

  1. Johnny Depp is not dead
  2. Do not believe everything you read on Twitter
  3. Do your research before spreading the misinformation further
  4. Don't click too many links about this, the celebrity malware spammers will be joining in soon enough if my hunch is correct

Edited by happygeek: added news link

Votes + Comments
I'm glad to see this informative post being spread quickly among twitter to help put this hoax to rest.

As Editorial Director and Managing Analyst with IT Security Thing I am putting more than two decades of consulting experience into providing opinionated insight regarding the security threat landscape for IT security professionals. As an Editorial Fellow with Dennis Publishing, I bring more than two decades of writing experience across the technology industry into publications such as Alphr, IT Pro and (in good old fashioned print) PC Pro. I also write for SC Magazine UK and Infosecurity, as well as The Times and Sunday Times newspapers. Along the way I have been honoured with a Technology Journalist of the Year award, and three Information Security Journalist of the Year awards. Most humbling, though, was the Enigma Award for 'lifetime contribution to IT security journalism' bestowed on me in 2011.

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Last Post by last two Silvas
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No, it was about the Twitter collective psyche getting it wrong. It was about the way that trending topics on Twitter become fact, even if only for a relative fleeting moment. And that's important as the likes of Google and Bing etc buy into Twitting trending, as the big names of search add their weight to the 'value' of such trends.

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This isn't the first death rumor on Twitter, other celebrities have had this happen to them like David Hasselhoff & Kanye West.

SNIP

Edited by happygeek: link snipped

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People have said that the originators of this hoax were at fault. Who? The 20-50 people that all agreed to put their minds together at the same time for the same purpose? Or the thousands upon thousands of people who mindlessly bought into the first thing they read?

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Actually I agree with you, and in my artcile I am not blaming the people who set the hoax off either back in 2004 or again now. It is the Twitter collective that is revealed to be broken, in my opinion. People are too eager to believe in order to belong, and to belong so that they can believe. Or something like that. Whatever, it shows that while Twitter can be a useful source of breaking news it can also be a conduit for Chinese Whispers and 'proper' news reporters are needed to separate the one from the other.

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Yes, treat everything as a rumor until you can verify it from an OFFICIAL source. Also, though this has become more difficult with the official news agencies dropping the ball on their own proofreading of late, spelling errors usually point out it is NOT from an official source or is likely a hoax/rumor.

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Like everything in life, there are good points and bad points. Like water, it can save people's lives but it can also kill them. Well maybe not with Twitter, but it shows the point that one tweet can be dangerous enough to cause major havok. If today is Twitter, what about tomorrow?

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Looks like my hunch was right.

It was only ever going to be a matter of time, and it proved to be around 24 hours actually. It seems that the scammers have started exploiting the inevitable interest in the Johnny Depp RIP story by publishing links to what is said to be video footage of the death crash but in fact is just a malware loader. More information on this breaking development at IT Pro.

Edited by happygeek: added link to more info

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Pues sera el unico cohe que por ese precio no lleve los nervios antivuelcos que llevan todos nuestros coches, porque yo tengo un fiat que esta blindado, es un regalo de Dios. No creo que este muerto y mira que yo con el no me llevo bien.

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