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Posted at 10:49 PM ET, 01/21/2012

Joe Paterno reports start Internet firestorm

When reports began to circulate on Twitter that Joe Paterno had died, the former Penn State coach quickly became a trending topic on Twitter and Google. Online interest ratcheted up a notch when, citing the Penn State student Web site Onward State, reported Paterno had passed away.


The reports would be refuted by other news organizations, and Paterno’s family.

Before the night was over the managing editor of Onward State stepped down. The organization had reported Paterno’s death early Saturday evening.

“I ask not for your forgiveness, but for your understanding. I am so very, very, sorry, and we at Onward State continue to pray for Coach Paterno,” Devon Edwards said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Jeff Sonderman of the Poynter Institute has a detailed blow-by-blow of repots of Paterno’s death. Sonderman traces the news to Onward State as having first tweeted the news.

A similar situation occurred in January 1999, when NBC reported that baseball great Joe DiMaggio had passed away. DiMaggio was still alive and, in fact, was watching NBC when they announced his death via a crawl across the bottom of the screen during a “Dateline NBC” broadcast. The network said a technician in its New York control room inadvertently sent the report.

DiMaggio lived another 41 days.

Screenshot of Google Trends at 10:27 pm.

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By  |  10:49 PM ET, 01/21/2012

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