How Media Responded To Lightfoot Death Rumor

The latest “celebrity death” to make the rounds on Twitter happened mid-day Thursday and was fueled by mainstream Canadian press. The “Drudge-ification” of North American news seems complete.

What’s more interesting than the Twitterstream is how the media treated their stories after the false report (AKA rumor) was outed.


The Gordon Lightfoot story was relatively short-lived and did not reach stratospheric numbers on Twitter (about 0.25% of all tweets). Some have used the short-life as an example of Twitter’s ability to self-correct. I don’t think that’s really the case; people were still making “he’s dead” retweets that contained links to the updated CANWEST story. That’s tweeting before thinking, a behavior that we need to haze.

Gordon Lightfoot Trendistic
Trendistic Analysis Reveals The Short-Life Of The Meme

Case Number 1: Keep the link, update the story

CANWEST was widely criticized for running the initial story reporting that Gordon Lightfoot had died. But rather than kill the link to the story, the media organization continued to update the story.

And the URL remained the same.

This is a key best practice. The revised story appeared on all CANWEST websites, so if someone clicked a link in a tweet that said ‘Gordon Lightfoot is dead’ — the result would be the news that the singer/songwriter was very much alive. Unfortunately, lots of people retweet without checking out the link that’s in the tweet.

Gordon Lightfoot - CANWEST
CANWEST continued to revise the same story, maintained the initial URL. This is a best practice and is borrowed from the blogging community.

Case Number 2: Kill the link, pretend it never happened

The converse happend at CBC Radio3. Maybe their software doesn’t allow revisions; if that’s the case, it’s time for application surgery (or burial).

Gordon Lightfoot - CBC3
CBC3 Pulled Their Story Rather Than Issue Correction

An Incomplete Paper (erh, electronic) Trail

These tweets were harvested using Twitter’s advanced search. I searched for “Lightfoot and dead” as well as “Lightfoot and not dead.” I searched for “Lightfoot and died” as well as “Lightfoot and not died.” I also have what I think is a comprehensive archive of tweets with links that go back to 11.23 AM, the earliest Tweet that I found.

Gordon Lightfoot - CNS Politics
11.23 AM - CNS Politics, the Canwest News Service national bureau
Gordon Lightfoot Search
11.25 AM Is Earliest Search Result For Lightfoot + Died that contains a link; the link is to a Facebook status update for the UNB Campus radio station. The Other Two Tweets Are TimeStamped 11.26 am appear to be the first that link to the Calgary Herald news story; both are Canwest Publishing Inc. properties.
11.41 AM - Montreal Gazette
Gordon Lightfoot may not be dead
11.42 AM - Wait!
Gordon Lightfoot - Chronicle Herald
11.42 AM - Chronicle Herald In Response To Their 11.37 AM Tweet Announcing His Death

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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