When you read that a famous person has died, remember it may not be true: premature death reports are becoming more common. There is nothing new about this. In 1816, the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge heard his death mentioned in a hotel by a man reading out a newspaper report of a coroner’s inquest.
He asked to see the paper, and was told that “it was very extraordinary that Coleridge the poet should have hanged himself just after the success of his play Remorse; but he was always a strange mad fellow”. Coleridge replied: “Indeed, sir, it is a most extraordinary thing that he should have hanged himself, be the subject of an inquest, and yet that he should at this moment be speaking to you.”
A man had been cut down from a tree in Hyde Park, and the only identification was that his shirt was marked ‘S. T. Coleridge’; Coleridge thought the shirt had probably been stolen from him.
However, the spread of social media makes it more common today. Some reports are from mistaken identity, others are reports released accidentally. Obituaries of famous people are often written in advance of their death by newspapers and held until needed, but sometimes news about that person triggers the obituary. Still others are deliberate hoaxes.
The Macquarie Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2016 is Fake news – actually two words. It refers to the disinformation and hoaxes published on websites, either for political purposes or to urge users to click on their website to find out more. According to the Macquarie committee, there comes a point with fake news when people start believing what they want to believe, whether it’s true or not.
American Press Secretary Sean Spicer was at odds with journalists over the number of people who attended President Trump’s Inauguration ceremony, with both sides crying ‘Fake news’. The top of the list of effective fake news hoaxes was apparently the report that President Obama had banned reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in American schools. Thousands believed it.
We check out all our information before we write our crossword clues, so don’t worry about reading any fake news here!