The Washington Post

Brightest Idea?: A Local Venue, a Local Blog and a Celebrity Death Rumor

IT ALL STARTED with a simple — yet alarming — tweet from the Velvet Lounge’s Twitter feed (@VLoungeREALTIME) this morning: “[We] just learned that long time friend of the club Derek [sic] Whibley of Sum 41, who played many early shows at the lounge, has committed suicide.”

Deryck Whibley, guitarist and singer of mainstream punk act Sum 41, has been a frequent topic in tabloids and entertainment publications recently because his three-year marriage to fellow singer Avril Lavigne has been publicly unraveling over the past few months.

Moments later, the 2,000 plus-followers-strong Twitter feed for local entertainment blog Brightest Young Things (@Brightestyoung) rebroadcast the news with a simple retweet (RT). Within minutes, surprised fans were offering their own condolences.

There was just one problem: the story wasn’t true. Andrew Bucket, 25, says he made it up.

As the bookings manager of the Velvet Lounge, Bucket helps run the venue’s Twitter feed. He’s also a contributor to Brightest Young Things.

“I was chatting with [BYT co-editor Libby Ellsworth-Kasch] this morning and she said, ‘Who should I start a death rumor about?’ I said, ‘Zach Braff.’ I had no idea that [the Zach Braff death rumor] had happened over the weekend. That’s who I think should die.

“I was thinking who is someone in the shadows who would suddenly die. Then it was like Deryck Whibley of Sum 41. I thought he might be going through a hard time because he just broke up with Avril Lavigne. So he might be having his John Lennon’s lost weekend and suddenly be found in a pool of his own Manic Panic hair dye from Hot Topic.”

Once the Velvet Lounge tweet was sent, Ellsworth-Kasch said she retweeted it on Brightest Young Things’ feed.

“I’m not a journalist,” Ellsworth-Kasch said. “Journalists can’t do that.”

Bucket said he intentionally chose a star about whom such news couldn’t be quickly smacked down, and whose representatives would be tough for mainstream media following up on the story to swiftly contact.

Express reached out to the band’s record label and didn’t get a response before this story was published. However, the band’s reps at Red Light Management told Alternative Press that Whibley is indeed “very much alive.”

The rumor was originally posted on the Velvet Lounge and Brightest Young Things Twitter feeds at around noon. About an hour later, a new post at Velvet Lounge’s feed said simply “sike!” Then, the postings about Whibley on both the Velvet Lounge and Brightest Young Things feeds disappeared.

New posts about Whibley went live about an hour later, after Express began contacting both the venue and the blog to investigate the rumor. Why the disappearing and reappearing? “To add to the drama,” says Ellsworth-Kasch. “It looks like we’re trying to get confirmation, so we took it down.”

Alternative Press quotes Brightest Young Things founder Svetlana Legetic as saying the story was “some kind of a test as to how viral news of this variety go” and that Brightest Young Things was “in the process of adjusting our little mini blurb (which does call for awaiting for more details/confirmation as is) on the site to reflect that Deryck is, in fact, not dead.”

The edited blurb, under Bucket’s byline, explains the rumor’s circulation this way:

this is about how easy it is for death rumors to be started- comparing how easily information is disseminated through multiple platforms and flipped from person to person.

also -its about how quickly the mainstream media looks for celebrity death news- it literally was one tweet and the express called and alt press picked it up.

Compare this to mark paul gosselaar death rumors when we were kids- there was no way to confirm those rumors- but now, with THE INTERNET it should be easier to confirm those rumors but in RT culture people don’t care.

Think before tweeting.

But some of the reasoning Bucket gave Express was less academic: “I was pretty bored this morning.”



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Christopher Porter · October 14, 2009