By Andrew Donaldson
When Canadian Transport Minister Mike Baird sent a text message this week declaring “Thatcher is dead”, it didn’t take long for the news to spread like wildfire throughout Canadian politics.
Even the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, was led to believe that Baroness Thatcher, Britain’s first female Prime Minister, had died aged 84.
What most were unaware of, however, was that Mr Baird was referring to his recently departed pet cat, rather than the Iron Lady herself.
Only a series of telephone calls to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace put the speculation to rest.
Of course, it’s not the first time that a rumour has spread concerning the death of a high profile celebrity.
Just ask Jeff Goldblum, star of such hit films as Independence Day and Jurassic Park.
Earlier this year, the 57-year-old actor was reported to have fallen to his death while filming a new movie in New Zealand.
The rumour turned out to be nothing but a case of inaccurate reporting, with Mr Goldblum’s publicist insisting that reports were “completely untrue” and that the performer was “fine and in Los Angeles”.
Scrubs star Zach Braff is another victim of a hoax claiming he was dead.
Only last month, rumours spread online that the 34-year-old had been found dead in his Beverly Hills home after consuming a bottle of pills.
Reports of the apparent suicide were eventually silenced by Braff himself via his personal Facebook page when he declared:
“I’m very much alive.
“Total internet rumor [sic].
“Amazing how fast one douche can spread a lie.
“Be careful out there on the internets [sic].”
Braff raises an interesting point.
The internet seems to completely surpass all other forms of media in terms of its ability to circulate baseless information incredibly quickly and on a massive scale.
In the last year alone, rumours about the deaths of Rick Astley, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, Harrison Ford and Ellen DeGeneres were all widely circulated on the internet.
But why is this? What about the internet makes it so good for spreading rumours?
Ex-Sociology lecturer, Dr Alison Harold said: “The nature of the internet and how it is structured, with anyone and everyone being able to have an input, means that any information can be passed around.
“The interconnectivity of the internet means that any information can be passed around at an incredible rate.”
Another explanation for the ever-increasing frequency of hoax celebrity-death reports is just how easy the internet has made it for would-be hoaxers to perpetrate their mischief.
It’s all too easy for pranksters to produce emails or webpages that, at first glance, look like authentic news sources, but contain completely inaccurate information.
Inevitably, the more gullible members of society will be taken in, forward the story on, and thus the rumour spreads.
Barry McPherson, spokesperson for the Scottish PR consultancy <em>The Big Partnership</em>, offerred another explanation as to why fake tales of celebrity demise are so prevalent online.
Mr McPherson said: “Bad, depressing or negative stories always have strong news value, particularly where they concern public figures.
“Add to this the increasing fixation with celebrity culture and the explosion in modern, social media, and it’s little surprise that such (false) rumours circulate so fast.
He, added: “It’s hard to credibly quantify the impact such hoaxes have on the individuals in question, though I’d assume no-one’s particularly chuffed to hear about their own (falsely) rumored demise.
“It would also be particularly upsetting for their friends and family.”
Whether it’s mistaken identity or a simple prank, rumours heard on the internet often aren’t what they first seem.