Posted Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010, at 7:17 PM
Slate technology columnist Farhad Manjoo reports :
Morgan Freeman isn't dead. And CNN didn't report that Morgan Freeman was dead . For a few minutes on Thursday afternoon, though, Twitter erupted with news of the gravelly voiced star's untimely demise.
How did the rumor begin? Blame it on @originalcjizzle , a guy with nearly 1,500 followers who is fond of calling people "jive turkeys." Just before 5 p.m. ET, @originalcjizzle tweeted:
RT @CNN: Breaking News: actor Morgan Freeman has passed away in his Burbank home<< wow legendary actor #RIPmorganfreeman.
This was a fake retweet: @originalcjizzle was pretending to pass on a tweet from CNN. ( Update, 12/17: @originalcjizzle has since deleted his faked Morgan Freeman death tweet.) This is a common way to begin a hoax on the social network—nobody fact-checks anything on Twitter, so faking a CNN retweet is a good way to get your fake death notice to go viral.
Given how easy it is to start this kind of rumor, it's surprising that we're not inundated with more fake celebrity deaths. Or maybe it's not: Perhaps people start these kinds of rumors all the time, but @originalcjizzle got lucky in picking someone whose fake death really resonated with the Twitter-sphere. Morgan Freeman is just young enough for people to be surprised by his death but just old enough that his death doesn't seem completely out of left field. He's famous enough for you to care that he died but not so famous that you're likely to have been up to date on his health.
Indeed, nobody seems more surprised by the velocity of the rumor than @originalcjizzle himself. "It was an inside joke between friends," he tweeted later . "I had no intention of things turning out this way."
Photograph of Morgan Freeman by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Hollywood Awards.