‘Death by Twitter’: Understanding false death announcements on social media and the performance of platform cultural capital

Nansen, Bjorn; O'Donnell, Dominic; Arnold, Michael; Kohn, Tamara; Gibbs, Martin
First Monday

In this paper, we analyse false death announcements of public figures on social media and public responses to them. The analysis draws from a range of public sources to collect and categorise the volume of false death announcements on Twitter and undertakes a case study analysis of representative examples. We classify false death announcements according to five overarching types: accidental; misreported; misunderstood; hacked; and hoaxed. We identify patterns of user responses, which cycle through the sharing of the news, to personal grief, to a sense of uncertainty or disbelief. But we also identify more critical and cultural responses to such death announcements in relation to misinformation and the quality of digital news, or cultures of hoax and disinformation on social media. Here we see the performance of online identity through a form that we describe, following Bourdieu as ‘platform cultural capital’.