The internet has a cruel habit of killing celebrities on social media. Most of those who fall victim to this trend are high profile stars but there’s one that has been targeted again and again by internet trolls: Rowan Atkinson aka Mr. Bean.
“Rowan Atkinson Dead” headlines started to surface last year, claiming the Mr. Bean actor was found lifeless after committing suicide in his California home. Apparently, the 60-year-old actor and comedian was battling severe depression and was pronounced dead after Marin County Police in California responded to an emergency call at his residence. The report lacked specific details, but it tricked many fans into sharing their shock and offering condolences to Atkinson’s family.
In March, the Mr. Bean death hoax made rounds again and this time, the comedian got into a car accident. It doesn’t have many details like the old hoax. But since we trust the Internet so much even though we know anyone can post anything on it, the claim still generated hundreds of thousands of shares in a short period of time.
For the 5th consecutive year, Rowan Atkinson is once again pronounced dead on Facebook. This time due to a car crash.
— Chino Muñoz (@chinowzki) March 18, 2017
It’s a sick joke that shouldn’t be tolerated. However, death hoaxes have ultimately become common among famous personalities. To name a few, it has victimized Hollywood stars like Sylvester Stalone, Blake Shelton, Jaden Smith, Paul McCartney, Miley Cyrus, Hugh Hefner and even Queen Elizabeth. Some of the false claims are rehashes of the old ones, which should have us all rolling our eyes by now. Yet, it still sucks us in every time.
Why? What makes it work?
Pranksters who start this cruel trend follow a loose pattern and employ devious technical tricks to entice readers to view the false report. This year, death hoaxes are often coming from sites that sound like actual news outlets and Digiday notes their subjects are mostly young, popular celebrities with a cult following that would be devastated by their passing.
While facts are scarce in most of these fake death reports, it always gets people to do it because the scheme “taps into people’s emotions, which is what makes us share articles in the first place.” Craig Silverman, who writes about fake news for BuzzFeed, explains: “If you think about why so many stars are subject to death hoaxes, they’ve been part of a pop culture that people have an emotional connection to. And that is at the core of what makes fake news work.”
Then there’s the viral sharing.
If the information is interesting enough or believable enough, it will likely get passed around on social media for months or even years. If it is accompanied by legit-looking pictures or numbers, then it’s so much the better. After all, there are some who will inadvertently share reports without bothering to fact-check it, or even read past the headline.
The reasons behind the creation death hoaxes vary though. It can be attributed to the desire to get attention—a sense of importance garnered from watching their misinformation take off— boredom or pure curiosity. There could also be more nefarious motives like leading the clicker to a phishing, malware, or other types of destructive sites. However, the majority is simply to cause a surge of traffic to a certain site which, according to Digiday, is paid for with ads.
Now, how will we know if the celebrity death report is fake? The answer is pretty obvious. Any well-known person who dies suddenly should be all over the news, not just in one website or two. And if you read a headline about someone dying unexpectedly like another “Rowan Atkinson Dead”, be skeptical. Always double check. Don’t trust what you read unless it’s from a reputable news outlet.