A couple of hours ago, my boyfriend walked in my office and said "I think one of the Golden Girls died."
My heart stopped. Because as all of us in what I like to refer to as the Golden Girls Super Awesome Friends Fan club know, the only surviving cast member is Betty White. "No!!!" I shrieked out like a community theater actor hopped up on Red Bull. "NOT BETTY WHITE NO!!!" (I'm clearly not ready to lose Betty White just yet. I need a little more time with her.)
"Oh no, not her. The other one. Blanche."
That was an interesting thing to hear, considering I had already mourned the lovely Blanche Devereaux aka Rue McClanahan back in 2010 when she actually did die. I pushed him to clarify where he heard this.
"It was all over the Internet."
Sure enough, people had been tweeting "RIP, Rue McClanahan" like crazy. It's one thing when celebrities are victims of fake death hoaxes, but how does someone re-die on the Internet? According to Caitlin Dewey of The Washington Post, it's pretty easy:
On June 3, the anniversary of McClanahan's death, a handful of fans — like the popular Golden Girls fan account @Blanche1934 — tweeted memorials for Rue. @Blanche1934 has nearly 15,000 followers and a spot-on understanding of when McClanahan died. But on Twitter, a platform not exactly long on context, people began to truncate the original messages. "RIP Rue 6/3/2010!!!" became "R.I.P. Rue." "R.I.P. Rue" became, predictably, "oh my God Blanche died."
But it wasn't just fueled by a few overzealous Twitter users who misunderstood @Blanche1934's tweet, as Dewey pointed out. Many people linked to an article in their own tweets which they apparently never bothered to read:
In an additional, interesting twist, many of the R.I.P. Blanche crowd also link to a CBS article about McClanahan's death, dated to 2010. Unlike similar cases, when faulty datelines have caused celebrities to "re-die" on Twitter, this seems like a instance of simple misreading: The date's clearly marked at the top of the page, above the headline, but people fly right over it in their haste to read of Rue. How does that happen in 2014? Well, for starters, people tend to skim online text – you are, statistically speaking, probably skimming right now.
But surely there were plenty of people correcting this bad information on Twitter? Isn't that what the Internet is for? Gleefully pointing out when others are wrong about something? When it comes to the size and scope of certain users' followers, it can be hard to stop the train. "If someone with 8,000 followers tweets that McClanahan has died," stated Dewey "It doesn't much matter if three people with 100 followers tweet back saying he or she was wrong."
Last night, there were still plenty of people tweeting "RIP Rue" messages of love and support.
Don't worry; for those of you who skimmed this article and jumped to the bottom, I've got an accurate summary that will help you to discuss the story in the comments: Rue McClanahan faked her own death and spent the past four years running an Applebee's in Dallas. She passed away for real last week. RIP Rue. Also, Betty White bought Twitter and is engaged to James Franco.
Image via Getty Images.