How Morgan Freeman’s Death Rumor Spread

A fake CNN retweet sparked a Twitter firestorm

Last Updated: December 17, 2010 @ 9:17 AM

For about an hour on Thursday afternoon, Morgan Freeman was dead. That is, if Twitter was to be believed.

Not only that, it appeared that CNN had reported Freeman’s death on its official Twitter feed, as users began retweeting other users’ tweets with variations of this:

RT @CNN: Breaking News: actor Morgan Freeman has passed away in his Burbank home

Freeman, it turned out, was alive. And CNN did not — as some users who went to CNN’s feed to see the tweet for themselves — report then retract the news of Freeman’s demise. CNN said they never tweeted it in the first place:

CNN did not report Morgan Freeman death. Rumor is false. CNN will aggressively investigate this hoax.

So how did it happen?

"Blame it on @originalcjizzle, a guy with nearly 1,500 followers who is fond of calling people 'jive turkeys,'” Slate reported.

Shortly before 5:00 p.m. ET, “@originalcjizzle” tweeted this:

RT @CNN: Breaking News: actor Morgan Freeman has passed away in his Burbank home<< wow legendary actor #RIPmorganfreeman

With CNN’s Twitter handle legitimizing what was an otherwise garden-variety celebrity death hoax, it was off to the viral races.

By 5:23 p.m., I noticed the news started popping up in my own Twitter stream — including a retweet from Borders bookstore’s official Twitter feed.

I did what others did – went to CNN’s Twitter page to find the original tweet, did not, and assumed they had retracted what was an Internet-generated hoax. I also asked CNN to clarify:

Is Morgan Freeman dead or not, @CNN?

Peter Shankman — founder of HARO (Help a Reporter Out) and identified as a “Freeman's pal” by WENNtook to Twitter to debunk the rumor:

Dear CNN: Morgan Freeman is still busy living. He’s yet to get busy dying. Please confirm first.

Meanwhile, the originator of the hoax, who calls himself a barber, said he was oblivious to the firestorm he created:

I wasn't even aware the sh– blew up I was cutting hair & watching pulp fiction & my phone was blowing up

To his credit, uh, Mr. Jizzle did eventually own up to crafting the death hoax, and apologized:

It was an inside joke between friends. I had no intention of things turning out this way. … I make cruel and vulgar jokes & I won't apologize for my sense of humor, but I do apologize for crossing the line.

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