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Bill Cosby Not Dead, but Why So Many Death Hoaxes? Psychologist Weighs In



Bill Cosby isn’t dead, but why does the American comedian get so many death jokes?

Late Monday, Bill Cosby was said to be dead on Facebook and Twitter, creating a massive online buzz up until now.

In 2012 alone, Cosby has been declared dead three times on the social media, but the history of “Bill Cosby dead” rumor started even way back.

In August 2010, the “Cosby Show” megastar had already had enough of the morbid trend.

""I don't want [whoever spread the rumor] to do this anymore, because this is my fourth time being reported [dead]," Cosby told CNN's Kyra Phillips in 2010.

A friend of Cosby was brought to tears by the fake rumor.

"Emotional friends have called about this misinformation," Cosby tweeted.

"To the people behind the foolishness, I'm not sure you see how upsetting this is."

After enjoying the initial buzz for a while, you may come to wonder why these celebrity death hoaxes continue to spring up. In the past, many celebrities have fallen victim to death hoaxes, including Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Demi Moore, Brad Pitt and Jackie Chan among many.


What motives are behind these coarse jokes?

Hoax is “a manipulation of social power,” Pamela Brown Rutledge, Ph.D., M.B.A. in Positively Media stated in a Psychology Today article in March.

“In Twitter hoaxes, particularly those about celebrity deaths, the perpetrators are counting upon fans' emotional attachment to the celebrities to generate an immediate reaction and override a more measured response of healthy skepticism,” Rutledge, who is also the Director of the Media Psychology Research Center, explained.

“While a hoax may strike some as funny, and there are undoubtedly some instances of funny ones that we might commonly refer to as 'practical jokes,' most hoaxes are designed to promote the psychological or commercial interests of the perpetrator at the expense of the victims. “

Perhaps Bill Cosby has enough fans emotionally attached to him, making the perpetrator want to arouse their attention.
And the reason why “Bill Cosby dead” would burst into a trend on Twitter?

“Media hoaxes get 'legs' because people are biologically wired to attend to unusual or dangerous things in the social environment, thus something like an announcement of the death of an icon has significance to our subconscious brain,” Rutledge explained.

Humans innately crying out for social interaction would bring their need into the digital space – where they can be anonymous – and find pleasure in the outburst of attention. An emotionally mature person does not make such a choice, the psychologist pointed out, adding that the death hoax also negatively impacts the society by taking away the experience of real loss and real events of sorrow.

Another negative impact of the Twitter death hoax 'fad,' is that the hoaxes take away from the experience of real loss and real events of sorrow.

“On the Internet, information is uncurated and unvetted. It can provide late breaking, important, and poignant information. It can also give us junk and lies,” Rutledge warned.
“Our ability to be responsible digital citizens relies on our ability to make judgments about the quality of the information we see and to be thoughtful about where we seek information.”

When Bill Cosby does pass away, will it be treated as another joke, until everyone finds out that the comedian is no longer there to respond? We hope not.


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Aug 28, 2012 10:02 PM EDT