Culture

Unraveling a Hoax and Hoax Culture

In the hour after the initial report of Fast and Furious star Paul Walker’s death, I did what I always do when there is significant news breaking; I spend as much time getting the news from as many different sources as I can. This was a case of both “unbelievable” and “truly unbelievable” as much of what was disseminated immediately following the report was that the story, reported first by TMZ, was a hoax. The hoax had been reported by a website (which will not be linked to and has since been taken down) that could generate stories refuting celebrity deaths when you change or input any celebrity’s name. This website created a wave of social media chatter refuting the TMZ story calling the death a hoax. It unraveled the fabric of truth and trust of social media news, as legitimate news sources had only quoted TMZ for the story. It certainly left me hoping that it was indeed a hoax, but left me frustrated that immediate news can very easily be erroneous news.

The confusion amplified perhaps, by the reputation of TMZ and their penchant for gossip. While they may be gossip hungry, they have in the past been noted for being correct on celebrity deaths (see the death of Michael Jackson) in the past. I had to take both sides with a grain of salt and waited until a more “credible” news source confirmed the tragic event. Through it all, social media sites I visit and use for news immediacy (namely twitter and occasionally reddit) were flooded by both calls of sadness and sympathy, and the unfortunate and idiotic act of what can be umbrellad under “hoax culture”. It’s easy to make jokes connecting the film franchise Paul Walker is most known for, The Fast and Furious, and the circumstances of his death. Yet as I scrolled through all these “jokes”, I found none of them remotely funny, and generally speaking, just sickening. And for some reason, there was a running joke of posting pictures of other celebrities next to Paul Walker’s name, as if this were some form of comedic tweeting. Who are these people? I know this sort of behaviour is nothing new, yet I am continually dumbfounded. Are these people serious? Is their internet personality a reflection of who are they in the real world?

Thankfully, the many people I do follow on twitter take their influence and social media accounts with a little more integrity. And through some patience, there were journalists and others involved in the media who did the work and waited until official confirmation before spreading the news. It’s just now, with such global reach available to everyone, we have the added responsibility of heeding our sources with added reserve, while watching what we say and write.

The story here of course, is that two young men lost their lives in tragic circumstances, leaving behind family and friends and fans behind. I am frustrated by both the immediacy and the free-for-fall nature of social media, twitter in particular. I am still one of those old curmudgeons that feel that influence and reach is something you should have to legitimately earn. Perhaps scrolling through the “trending” topics and reading the tweets that come from topical hashtags was my own mistake. Maybe I do not understand “trolling” and “hoax culture”, but I know I do not perceive it to be anything more than a sad and pathetic nuisance. God forbid being a family member or close friend having to discover of terrible news in such fashion.

I enjoyed his films and think that his work will go underrated as we remember them in the years ahead. I hope that his family and close friends were informed of the terrible news in a dignified manner, far away from the drudges of social media.

It took Paul Walker’s social media accounts to confirm of his tragic passing, ironic perhaps that the medium I find most frustrating to deal with when finding the truth, was the one source you could rely on for it.

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