I woke today to the news that Michael Jackson was in hospital and it was suspected that he had died. I didn’t go to my computer, just followed the mainstream media on Channel Nine here in Melbourne for awhile. Eventually news broke that he had died.
I went to the computer and opened Twitter where the story was being discussed by all. Then Richard Wilkins on Channel Nine’s Today Show announced he had just received a report saying that Jeff Goldblum had fallen from a cliff in New Zealand while filming and was dead. Now hearing it on mainstream media led to me sending out a tweet about it. That led to a series of retweets that spread like wildfire while I tried to verify if the story was true.
Some tweets came through pretty early on suggesting it was a hoax. The links wouldn’t open. I went to Wikipedia and saw interesting developments take place within minutes. Jeff Goldblum’s page was open when I first visited. I refreshed not two minutes later and the page was locked to users who were new or unregistered.
That led to me getting suspicious that something was up, be it truth or hoax. Right after this Richard Wilkins announced that New Zealand police were investigating the death of Jeff Goldblum from a fall while filming. Rightly or wrongly, I tweeted this, just as I had been tweeting about changes to the Wikipedia page. I searched the web for verification but the page that would have confirmed the hoax wouldn’t open. Later in the morning, Ann Van Meter sent the link that opened to Top Stories, a site that generates stories like this one.
Refreshing the Wikipedia page was interesting over that period. At one stage they had information saying the reports of his death were likely a hoax. I tweeted this. At another stage this information was no longer on the page, but they had after his name his birthdate and death and referred to him in the past tense. Not soon after this the page was updated again with this information missing and he was once again discussed in the present tense.
Wikipedia page not long after mainstream media announcement.
Past tense reference to Jeff Goldblum.
(Using the history tab in Wikipedia enabled me to grab these screenshots of the relevant pages)
At around this time, The Today Show’s, Karl Stefanovic, mentioned on Channel Nine that Twitter was reporting the story as a hoax. I tweeted this too. I then started to read tweets about ethical behaviour and the like. I felt like some of this was directed at me. (Maybe that’s paranoia!) Here’s some of the flurry in a screen capture;
I’m prepared to admit that I feel pretty bad about putting out the Tweet in the first place. I trusted mainstream media. I honestly did not think Richard Wilkins would report something that had not been properly verified. The Today Show had been quite insistant earlier in the morning about saying that the reports of Michael Jackson’s death were coming from TMZ, a gossip website. But I do think I was making a concerted effort to get verification from other Web sources.
It’s a lesson in Digital literacy for us all.
Should I have searched first and tweeted later? Probably.
Would this have been a good lesson to use with students as it happened? Absolutely.
Will I be using this post with the classes I teach? You betcha.
Have I learnt a lot this morning? Too right I have. Snopes slipped my mind just when I needed it!