Last week, it was widely reported online that Neil Armstrong, that the first man to walk on the moon, had passed away. While the reports of Neil Armstrong’s death on August 25th are correct, the reports were an entire year late: Armstrong died on August 25th, 2012.
But the difference of a year didn’t stop the online fervor from growing. People were so taken aback by the news that the hashtag #RIPNeilArmstrong began to trend. In hindsight, that hashtag offers many comical tweets.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of behavior. Twitter celebrity death hoaxes have hit a variety of stars, including Bill Cosby and Paul McCartney. However, there is one thing different this time: those two are still alive.
It turns out the whole issue wasn’t a hoax at all, but rather a glitch over at ABC News. ABC was planning to release a video commemorating the anniversary of Armstrong’s passing, but when they went to push it to Twitter, the timestamp somehow changed by a year, and made the article appear as if it was current. What made it even worse was the title of the piece, users hit the Twitter ‘share’ button:
With that wording, the link went into a tailspin, earning more and more shares and retweets. Eventually, ABC added an editor’s note to the original article and changed the timestamp:
Editor’s Note: This article was written and published on Aug. 25, 2012, the day Neil Armstrong died, and was updated this week with a new video to commemorate the anniversary of Armstrong’s death. This update changed the time stamp on our mobile site, causing some to share the story on social media thinkingwe had published news of Armstrong’s death today. We regret the confusion caused by the updated time stamp.”
It was a genuine mistake, and in the grand scheme of things, is anyone going to be seriously upset with ABC because they made had a technical mix-up? I sincerely doubt it, but Armstrong’s story should serve as a reputation management wake up call for a few reasons.
- Errors happen all the time – Passing away twice on Twitter isn’t likely to hurt the legacy of Neil Armstrong, but errors and typos in social media and the web take place frequently. In a case like this, ABC News quickly rectified the error and the confusion was eventually remedied, but if there is a situation where something is said about you or your company which is incorrect, it may be difficult to change it. Unless you are monitoring your personal or brand reputation, you may never see the incorrect statement, and people will assume it as truth, for better or worse.
- Be careful what you post online – Again, having the wrong year on an American icon’s death isn’t the end of the world, but it goes to show why you need to double check everything that you post to social media. Is it offensive? Am I in the correct account? As we have seen with StubHub, JC Penny’s Hitler teapot, and plenty of athletes, one small mistake can lead to a multitude of apologies from you or your company later.
- Not everything on Twitter is true – Before retweeting, sharing, liking, etc., it makes sense to check a couple of sources. This can save you the embarrassment of being teased for eulogizing a man twice.
What can we learn from the astronaut who died twice? Errors and threats to online reputation can happen at any time-even in death. The best defense against erroneous entries is vigilant monitoring of your personal or brand reputation, no matter how famous, or long dead, you are.