These days, thanks largely to microblogging sites like Twitter, hardly a week goes by without rumors of a celebrity or some such person in the public eye popping their clogs.
The latest person to get caught up in the Twitter rumor mill is the new North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. According to reports, news that the leader of the reclusive nation has been assassinated on a visit to Beijing quickly spread around the world via social media websites on Friday.
One US official said they believed there was no truth in the claim, saying “Our experts are monitoring the situation and we see no abnormal activity on the [Korean] peninsula and nothing that credits that tweet as accurate.”
It appears the rumor originated in China on microblogging site Sina Weibo, a service similar to Twitter and one that boasts 250 million users. At some point on Friday, the rumor made the jump to Twitter, and as you can imagine, once the retweet frenzy kicked in, the (fake) news went global.
The claim was that Kim Jong-un had been shot dead while visiting the North Korean embassy in the Chinese capital. By Friday evening there were around 380,000 posts on Sina Weibo referring to the rumor, though apparently many of the tweets expressed skepticism about the news.
However, many Twitter users were convinced it was true after two apparent BBC Twitter accounts confirmed reports. However, the BBC has since said that those Twitter accounts were fake and have now been removed. When you have a major news site like the BBC caught up in an incident like this, it’s not hard to see how rumors spread so fast.
Rumors of those in the public eye passing away are part and parcel of Twitter. It can take a matter of mere minutes for them to gain traction and go global.
In December 2010 Twitter was abuzz with news of Charlie Sheen supposedly having met his maker in a snowboarding accident, prompting ex-wife Denise Richards to take to the microblogging site to deny any such happening. “He is alive and on his way over to see his daughters. Thank u for all your concern,” she tweeted.
More recently, rumors that Jon Bon Jovi had passed away were quashed by the singer when he posted a picture of himself on Twitter holding a sign which said, “Heaven looks a lot like New Jersey.”
As for Kim Jong-un, the young North Korean leader is presumably safely tucked up in bed this evening, the victim of another ‘death’ rumor spreading like wildfire across microblogging networks. He won’t be the last.