A social media firestorm erupted earlier today when a major news agency Tweeted that Neil Armstrong had died. Well, the first man on the moon did indeed die… last year. Your humble correspondent was one of many who were caught in the rush to report the news, and fielded a post earlier today. Our readers responded with typical good humor, turning what could have been an embarrassing moment into a funny one for all of us. I’ve deleted the post to avoid any further confusion, although I have to admit that there’s a puckish side of me that would enjoy perpetuating the meme. I apologize for “disinforming” you in this instance, but at least this gives us a good opportunity to discuss how and why information (including rumors, memes and propaganda) spreads in our increasingly fast-paced media environment. Again, I offer my sincere apologies for the confusion, and without getting too personal here, I can tell you that this misstep is pretty much in character with the last few days I’ve had.
Usually, those false Internet rumors about a famous someone’s demise end with word trickling through social media that it’s a hoax, or maybe even a statement directly from the celebrity that he or she is just fine, thank you very much.
But in the case of Tuesday’s rumors that astronaut Neil Armstrong had died — well, Armstrong is still dead. The part that the Internet got wrong is when. Armstrong, the first man on the moon, passed away Aug. 25, 2012.
ABC News mistakenly sent out a tweet, now deleted, that said, “Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Is Dead,” according to HollywoodLife.com.
ABC was intending to tweet a piece about his passing to honor the anniversary of his death, but it was attached to a more current video, which changed the timestamp on the story to Aug. 27 and made everything appear current. The culprit was a misbehaving app, according to HollywoodLife.com. Social media eventually corrected the rumor, but not before it went viral.