On Thursday 25th June at around 10:20 GMT the news started to break that Michael Jackson had been taken to hospital and at this time his death was not entirely confirmed. As rumours began to spread that the star might be dead I saw the opportunity to prank two of my friends (http://www.twitter.com/wstrachan and http://www.twitter.com/haigyman). The original idea of the prank was to use the Fake a Wish fake celebrity death generator to try and trick them into believing a beloved celebrity had passed away.
My initial thoughts were to play on the idea of the trifecta of celebrity deaths, Farrah Fawcett having died the day before. The reason for choosing Jeff Goldblum? I don't know really, he seems like the kind of actor someone would have a strong emotional response to. I had considered using Bill Murray but for some reason didn't feel it would have the same impact.
Keep in mind at this stage I had intended this as a joke for two people. I had no idea of the events that would transpire.
After generating the URL on Fake a Wish I tweeted it. It's worth noting that I only had around 150 followers at this point and about 50 of those were spam bots. The original tweet - Link
If you doubt me I challenge you to find a tweet posted before mine referencing Jeff Goldblum's death.
The prank works perfectly, even though the autogenerated site is suspicious as hell and even says at the bottom (link here) of the page that it is fictional they are both briefly convinced it is true. I confess to them it is a joke and they quite rightly tell me "fuck you".
At this point I am more than satisfied, the prank has reached its intended audience and succeeded. Over the next 20 minutes Michael Jackson's death is confirmed across the various news networks and Twitter is starting to show signs of buckling under the strain of the constant tweets.
What happened next I can't really say for sure. If anything it was a domino effect. My original url got retweeted and started spreading like wildfire. I can only put it down to a case of mass hysteria in the immediate wake of Michael Jackon's passing. People were blindly retweeting the URL without waiting for further confirmation (or even reading the entire page to see that it was fake).
The original URL was tweeted over 600 times - Tweetmeme Stats Page
Alongside this people weren't even tweeting the URL, they were just passing comments regarding the actor dying. This was probably more dangerous than the original URL as where the original site is clearly a fake, people can read anything into a person's comments.
Within a few hours the news of Jeff Goldblum dying was creeping up the trends list on Twitter, overtaking Iran. At the height of its popularity it was the second most searched term on Google and Twitter after 'Michael Jackson Dead.' The Google trends show that it was the 4th most popular search phrase overall on the 25th June. - Top Google Trends for 25th June
I can only guess that when it started creeping up the Twitter trends list people were assuming without any other confirmation that Jeff was dead based on the hundreds of confused people tweeting at the time.
12:12AM GMT - Australian morning news TV show 'The Today Show' runs the Jeff Goldblum rumour as a story, claiming that New Zealand police have confirmed his death.
12:33AM GMT - At some point the Jeff Goldblum page on Wikipedia gets locked, but that doesn't stop several people discussing it on the talk page, including a mention of myself:
Here's the original tweet which started the hoax; http://twitter.com/JohnSkelton/status/2332616896 . Notice how the url it links to can be changed to any celebrity? LiamUK (talk) 00:33, 26 June 2009 (UTC)
1:12AM GMT - Kevin Spacey posts on Twitter to try and debunk the Jeff Goldblum death rumour - Link
As the Jeff Goldblum hoax continued to infect twitter, a google search at the time showed hundreds of forums where people were asking 'Is Jeff Goldblum dead?'. It had also spread to Facebook with 'RIP Jeff Goldblum' groups appearing.
Jeff Goldblum himself made an appearance on the Colbert Report to deny his own death. Stephen Colbert and Jeff then watch the news report of The Today Show confirming his death. Jeff then goes on to eulogize himself.
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