Gordon Lightfoot: This is your death on Twitter
If we could read his mind, we'd know that singer Gordon Lightfoot is alive and well, despite reports to the contrary that bounced around Thursday afternoon online -- bouncing that included mainstream Canadian media websites and a Canadian news service. The singer was on his way home from the dentist, he told news station CP 24, when he heard word over the radio that he'd died.
(Click on the next link to see the first tweets mentioning Lightfoot's death -- MediaStyle has done a good report that we can't improve upon, so check it out. But come back here after you read it, OK?)
Now, before we all pile on poor, misunderstood Twitter, know that there was also an offline component to the hoax. [Updated at 5:40 p.m. Feb. 19: If you're coming to this post and haven't seen today's follow-up clarifying how the hoax started -- with phone calls, not with Twitter -- make sure you click here to get the details.]
Singer Ronnie Hawkins, who spoke to radio station 680 News, said he heard the rumor from his U.S. management team; they'd heard it, he said, by phone from someone claiming to be his friend Lightfoot's grandson. Hawkins was quoted in at least one report as confirming the death.
Meanwhile, over on Twitter, where the fast-moving misinformation was busy correcting itself (even as the retweets continued well after the truth was known), post-hoax banter was an exercise in the medium's creative possibilities.
Folks joked, with a dash of black humor, riffing on other hoaxes or offering helpful suggestions for settling the dispute. Some people found a silver lining, and others a cautionary tale -- perhaps wrapped in a promotional opportunity.
But that didn't mean the tweeps were cool with the bad info going around. Some took a basic approach to their criticism; others worked the Hollywood angle. And then of course there were those who took the opportunity to kick the man after finding out he wasn't down.
And finally, some folks just plain old felt bad about propagating misinformation. And apologized.
-- Christie D'Zurilla
Photo: This is a shot of Gordon Lightfoot from 1996. He wasn't dead then either. For the record: He is older now. Credit: Handout.