Social Media: It’s Impact on Celebrities & the Way We Gather News

There are two anomalies happening in the realm of celebrities and social media. For this post, I examine the “Fact vs. Fiction” in reporting celebrity deaths/news and “The #RIPMJ Phenomenon”.

Fact vs. Fiction

It’s hard to tell these days what’s fact versus fiction. Centuries ago we depended on WOM to spread news… then came newspapers, then the 6 o’clock news and now social media. The problem with WOM was just like the game of telephone: stories skewed and the truth got lost by the third person. Newspapers and television stations had owners who wanted “certain” news spread over others and audiences began to feel  “filtered”. But, social media offered us a way to get the news straight from the horse’s mouth (or at least a first-hand account).

chinese whispers

More recently, Twitter has been serving as our source of news. In Iran, social media has been our only way to know what was happening (see here for article from the Washington Post re: State Dept asking Twitter to not shut down for maintenance due to it’s influence in Iran) while journalists were kept out. Citizen journalists took to the streets and we were given videos and Tweets that made us feel like part of the action. Twitter was a trusted and powerful news source.

But, with power comes sometimes (most always) abuse of power. And just like most of America has put their thoughts on Iran to the side to pick-up the juicy gossip of celebrity deaths, I too, will make Iran my side dish to this entree. 

So let’s run down what is true and what is false in regards to celebrity gossip on Twitter:

Who DID pass away?
– Michael Jackson, RIP
– Farrah Fawcett, RIP
– Billy Mays, RIP
– Fred Travalena, RIP
– Ed McMahon, RIP

Who did NOT pass away?
– Miley Cyrus
– Rick Astley
– Jeff Goldblum
– Ellen DeGeneres
– Britney Spears
– Harrison Ford

This is a concerning trend. And social media didn’t just impact other Tweeters like you and me, it impacted news bureaus. Suddenly television stations were being “duped” left and right because they trusted what was being Tweeted to the World from unverified Joe Shmoes. I mean, from plane crashes to Iran – Twitter had a history of being an honest source of news – for the most part. It’s a shame that celebrities are having to do media tours to prove they are alive and breathing!

(see here for a hilarious video from The Colbert Report where Jeff Goldblum has to argue indeed he is NOT dead)

So what does this mean for the evolution of social media as our source for news – a source for PR pros like myself who depend on blogs, videos, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook, etc to offer audiences honest information about people, products and services? Well I can tell you it’s not good.

For starters, in order to redeem Twitter’s credibility, we will need a global movement. Once again, just like in the game of telephone, you eventually hear the truth when the source is able to tell the last person in line how badly they received the message. But, it’s every step in-between that is an integral part of sending along the message. It’s not the person on the end who is to blame; it’s a fraction of everyone in line.

So – can I point a finger at someone? Well, it’s the first person – who may not have spoken clearly or concisely. It’s the second who may have jumbled up one or two words. It’s the third for passing along a message from a second-party that may or may not have been 100% accurate. (and so on and so forth).

Now I’m not calling for a stop on all media sharing or RTs or whatever your mode of communication may be… in short, though, journalists have become lazy. Yeah, I said it. But I mean news journalists as well as citizen journalists. You, me, Barbara, Matt, etc. We all carry this bond of laziness. 


So what now?  I read Twitter and Mashable every day – more than I read CNN or my local paper… why? Because the language, the style and the source is more like me and therefore I enjoy reading it more than a stuffy news site. BUT – before I Tweet, Retweet, Email, Call, Text, Podcast, Blog, IM, YouTube, and SCREAM the news from my rooftop – I vow to trace at least two steps back. I may not be the third person in line of our telephone game but if we all took a few seconds to trace our news two steps back – we may find the truth in the news once again. I personally hope that my contributing to sharing news isn’t creating a massively miscommunicated jumble of jargon that leaves questions unanswered.


For further views on the recent impact of social media on celebrities feel free to check out the following sites:
Is Rick Astley Dead? Internet Hoaxes Have Fans Wondering, ABC News
Miley Cyrus Death Latest False Celebrity Death Rumor, AC

The #RIPMJ Phenomenon

Pete Cashmore wrote a great article on Mashable a few days back about Michael Jackson’s death and its influence on Twitter. I think it deserves its own category for phenomenal impact on a social media engine to date. He states:

Previously, we might have learned of a pop star’s passing via TV, or a friend or coworker: now knowledge is immediate, and mourning has become more public than private: a collective expression of loss. According to the Twitter tracking tool Twist (incidentally, Twitter appears to be straining under the weight of the tributes to the star), 22.61% of Tweets currently contain the phrase “Michael Jackson”. “MJ”, meanwhile, accounts for 9% of Tweets right now. More than 25% contain the name “Michael”. In total, at least 30% of Tweets are remarking upon the star’s tragic passing, and that’s likely an underestimate.

And thank you to TechCrunch who offer this trending topics pic from Twitter showing MJ’s influence:

MJ trending topics

Michael Jackson’s death spread like wildfire and the world was affected. Blogs popped up specifically dedicated to his memory. It was a media frenzy. I wanted to include this information to show the IMPACT that social media has on how we not only RECEIVE news but how we RESPOND to news.

I leave you with a few more statistics on MJ’s death (thank you CleanCutMedia):

  • Web Usage: Jumped to 4.2 million global visitors per MINUTE. Normal is around 2 million.
  • Web Search: More than 50% of top 100 searches were related to Michael Jackson
  • Mobile Search: Saw the largest spike ever with 5 of 20 searches being about Michael Jackson
  • Yahoo: Single day record of 16.4 million visitors
  • CNN: Significantly slowed as they saw 20 million page views and saw traffic jump 5x normal levels within the first hour after the news broke.
  • AIM: Went down for 40 minutes
  • iTunes: 8 of the top 10 selling albums for download were from Michael Jackson, 8 of the top 10 music videos were also Michael Jackson related. 5 of the top 10 songs.
  • Amazon: 10 of the top 25 albums for download were Michael Jackson.
  • Amazon: For all CD sales, Jackson held 17 of the top 20 spots including all top 10 slots.
  • Youtube: “Thriller Video” currently has 43.5 million views and 185,000 comments.
  • Youtube: Fans are uploading videos in droves in memory of Michael Jackson
  • Twitter: 5,000 tweets per minute
  • Twitter: 23% of all tweets dedicated to the star.
  • Twitter: 9 out of 10 popular topics were about Michael Jackson.
  • Twitter: Celebrities expresses sorrows while followed by millions on Twitter.
  • Facebook: Groups formed to organize vigils and celebration of Jackson
  • Domains: Nearly 4,000 domain names related to Michael Jackson registered on Go Daddy within the first day

July 1, 2009. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.


  1. Clean Cut Media replied:

    Thanks for the reference to Clean Cut Media.

    Indeed, it was one of the most chaotic days in the news I’ve ever seen. There is a lot to think about here as half of all the latest breaking news were found to be false based on some obscure blog or a flurry of tweets. What a mess.

  2. Patrick Chaupham replied:

    Good read Meghan – good insights. Am on a mini quest to accept the fact that a lot of content is not original content – and that all content unless from a verifiable source it most certainly open for discussion and interpretation when it comes to socmed content. I mean, AT&T and 65,000 texts/tweets per sec? Yeah, you betcha a lot of that stuff is re-interpreted.

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