You don’t need to be a social media guru to know that it’s a very bad idea to assume that someone has just died because everyone on Twitter is mourning that person’s tragic passing.
On Twitter, to riff on Mark Twain’s favorite line, reports of just about anybody’s death can be greatly exagerrated. Just ask Gabriel García Márquez, Kanye West, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Cosby, Pope Benedict or any of the numerous other notables who Twitter has paid heartfelt-if-clueless tributes.
Usually, the teary tweets involve someone who is still happily very much among the living.
Today, however, Twitter — and other web destinations — memorialized Neil Armstrong. The first man on the moon is, indeed, no longer with us. But he died a year and two days ago. Twitter was awash in sadness then, too, but apparently some folks didn’t notice or forgot about it.
Even the MIT Technology Review noted Armstrong’s passing, in a tweet it later deleted.
You can see the story unfold in a post at tech site SlashGear. It started by reporting Armstrong’s death. Then it tweaked the story to report the first anniversary of his passing — still not quite accurate. And then it came clean and took responsibility for the goof.
The confusion seems to stem from an ABC News story — presumably from last year — which showed up again today with a current timestamp:
The lesson here isn’t that misinformation can spread like wildfire online. We all knew that already. It’s that the memories of human beings — some of us, anyhow — are remarkably fleeting, even when it comes to a fact as significant as the loss of someone responsible for one of mankind’s most memorable moments.
How much do you want to bet that at least a few of the folks who tweeted the sad news about Neil Armstrong today did the same thing one year and two days ago?