This is what happens when you post an ice bucket fail and a hoax-news site says you died

August 28, 2014

You may not recognize Therese Todd’s name, but if you spend any time on the Internet, you’ve probably seen her face before.

Todd, a 19-year-old college sophomore from Silver Spring, became a viral phenomenon two weeks ago when she “died” performing the ice bucket challenge in a friend’s backyard.

Needless to say, Todd did not actually die — in fact, a few hours after the fateful event, an emergency room doctor told Todd and her worried mother that an X-ray and CT scan looked just fine. But within days of posting the video on Facebook and YouTube, where it’s now racked up 2.3 million views, Todd began to see … a different version of events. First strangers began to comment on the video. Then a site called Daily Buzz Live — one of those totally unscrupulous and never-funny “news” sites that mixes actual news with straight-up fiction — published a post identifying Todd as a Mississippi teenager and saying she had died.

From there, there was no stopping it.

“She died, so it’s not funny,” one commenter wrote.

“One more for ALS, now claiming the lives of those who don’t even have it.”

“Look at her freaking neck … did her head come off? … SHE GOT DECAPITATED.”

“That poor girl died from that injury. Sad. RIP.”

Todd, who will return to college at UCLA in October, is more amused by the confusion than anything else. She got a flurry of texts from concerned friends who wanted to know if she was okay. She has patiently explained, in the video description and YouTube comments, that she fell down and had the wind knocked out of her, but was otherwise fine. (Two weeks after the incident, she’s also having some back pain — an issue she plans to get checked out.)

The little girl standing with her in the video, a friend’s five-year-old sister, was also okay. And the boy in the video — that same friend’s 15-year-old brother — probably felt guilty. But that was the extent of it.

“It seems like people just want a story,” said Todd, who’s now licensing the video through Jukin, a viral management company. “It’s a good story if I die, I guess. But if I’m okay, it’s just … not.”

I tried calling Daily Buzz Live to check on this theory, but alas, no one answered their office phone. Interestingly, while the site left up its totally bogus post on Todd’s death, with its totally bogus headline, it replaced her video with someone else’s. The post has been shared on Facebook more than 18,000 times.

Todd, for her part, is more upset that two of the people she nominated in her video haven’t done the challenge yet. It’s a short clip, she points out — it’s not like people will notice her on the street. But when she thinks about the fact that millions of strangers have seen the video, she does admit it’s “really weird.”

I asked Todd if she’d learned anything from the whole debacle. (That the Internet’s consistently terrible, maybe?) Todd said she didn’t see any big lessons here, save one: People will go to stupid, senseless lengths to make a bit of ad money.

Truer words have never been spoken.

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey · August 28, 2014