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Why is Social Media Trying to Kill off Celebrities?

The news popped into my email box while I was on the phone with a friend.  “Oh,” I cried out.  “Woody Harrelson is dead.”  We spent a moment reflecting on the career of Woody Harrelson and talked about how sad it must be for his family.  After the phone call, I realized that it was strange that the same news hadn’t popped up as a CNN or New York Times alert, so I Googled “Woody Harrelson” and found that nothing had been written about his death apart from social media.  Which is when I Googled “Woody Harrelson dead” and discovered the long-trending social media story declaring Woody Harrelson dead that won’t die itself.

Which begs the question: why does social media want to kill off Woody Harrelson?

He’s certainly not the only celebrity whose demise has been listed and then retracted on Twitter or Facebook time and time again.  Bill Cosby pops up a lot.  I’ve seen Eddie Murphy trend.  Vanilla Ice is still here even though he was reported gone.  Justin Bieber dies constantly.  Lindsay LohanParis HiltonChristian Slater.

It’s been mused on before that the creation of the 24-hour news cycle brings with it the picking over of every tiny details of a quote or moment in order to fill the time.  Where we used to get the big news all in one chunk at the beginning or end of the day, we now have commentator after commentator not only giving you the news but how you should process the news, how this news compares with that news, and moreover, giving us news that isn’t really news.

Has the 24-hour conversation on social media done the same thing?

While social media is great for disseminating news quickly and blogs are a wonderful tool for reflecting on events, are we also becoming a bit vulture-like, circling the skies looking for something to feast on verbally?  If the conversation lulls for a bit, do we start itching, thinking of the next thing to discuss to keep that human connection going?  And are we so hungry for a story that we create one if there isn’t something around to entertain us for the moment?

Sometimes I write because I have something to say, and sometimes I write because I want to talk.  In the same way that sometimes I eat because I’m hungry, and sometimes I eat because I feel like having food in my mouth.  So I definitely understand that desire to find something to write about.

Food for thought.

Cross-posted with BlogHer


1 Kristin (kekis) { 09.03.12 at 12:52 pm }

Social media kills off celebrities so it has the glory of resurrecting them.

2 sushigirl { 09.03.12 at 4:30 pm }

It happened before social media too though. I’m sure some newspapers pronounced that the Queen Mother was dead a couple of years before the actual event.

3 Kat { 09.03.12 at 9:07 pm }

I think when journalists gave up their dedication to reporting the news for the glory of making the news, they set the sad example for many who are active in social media. It now seems more important that people are reading you than that you are saying something worthwhile.

4 Mali { 09.05.12 at 6:31 pm }

Different stars regularly “fall to their death” in New Zealand. Jeff Goldblum, and now Robert Duvall. Apparently there’s even a website where you can generate the news item. Plug in star’s name, and voila, you have an article about their death in NZ!


Why people want to do this I have no idea. They want to manipulate people? See something they started generate lots of news?

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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