You may have looked up information upon hearing about the death of a celebrity – and stumbled across an article posted by the website Mediamass.net. This supposedly-satirical website offers untold numbers of fake, duplicated stories regarding celebrities in the name of humor. There are two primary problems with this scenario, however: the stories aren’t funny and real news sites have been fooled by these phony articles.
Update: March 8, 2016, a series of Tweets by Ringo Starr led many fans to find the fake Mediamass article about George Martin. You can see more about the George Martin death report here.
While most readers of well-known satirical sites such as The Onion or The Daily Currant typically understand that these websites are at least attempting to be funny, those who discover articles by Mediamass aren’t always aware that the stories are fake – even those writing for legitimate news websites.
The site labels itself as The Mediamass Project : Media criticism through satire. A further explanation continues:
Our website is very new (launched back at the end of October 2012) and still under construction. The ‘People’ section the only active one.
The concept is to select the most typical, representative and recurrent articles across Gossip magazines and to make them available for all the celebrities in our database.
The ‘People’ section is a humorous parody of Gossip magazines, all stories are obviously not true.
Thus thousands of celebrities, Bill Gates in USA, Zhang Ziyi in China, Ranbir Kapoor in India, etc. all have a dog called “Spinee” recovering from successful surgery.
We won’t change the world, but at least we’ll laugh trying.
Though they claim their celebrity articles are a “humorous parody,” they aren’t presented with any semblance of humor or satire. These auto-generated stories are duplicated for hundreds of celebrities, with only basic personal details (such as age or gender) changed to suit the celebrity for which the article is written. Take, for example, their article which “debunks” celebrity death hoaxes. The same article exists for every celebrity on the website. It isn’t news and it isn’t real.
Example: Fake stories debunking celebrity death hoaxes
As stated above, one type of story that can be found for every person on Mediamass “debunks” a death rumor supposedly circulating about that celebrity. Aside from basic details which vary for each celebrity, the rest of the “death hoax” article is duplicated verbatim.
Below are screen shots of the “death hoax” articles for Nicolas Cage, Hillary Clinton, and Jim Carrey when we first posted this article in 2013.
Some legitimate news sites have cited these phony stories by Mediamass, not realizing they were fake. Below are some examples of real news outlets which have been fooled by Mediamass, often without sourcing them.
- Travelers Today. This article debunks a Bill Cosby death hoax, dated June 6, 2013 and written by Karen Fredrickson. It reprints – almost verbatim – the death hoax seen in the examples above, but does not cite Mediamass as a source.
- India Today. This article debunks a Lady Gaga death hoax. It is dated May 27, 2013 and also closely mirrors the Mediamass article without credit.
- International Business Times. After a real death hoax for Jackie Chan circulated online, IBT used the phony Mediamass story to debunk the rumor. Mediamass was not cited, and the article was later removed and blocked from the Internet Archive.
- Epoch Times. In an article about numerous celebrity death hoaxes, this article does source Mediamass – but as a legitimate news source – and uses the phony “rep” statement in regards to an Eddie Murphy death hoax.
- Huffington Post. In this story about Ashley Judd, a fake Mediamass story regarding nude photos (which exists for every celebrity on the site) is linked as if it were a legitimate source.
- Gloucestershire Echo. In a report debunking rumors about the death of Macaulay Culkin, this report appears to be completely drawn from the Mediamass report. Not only were they fooled, but they didn’t give credit.
“Death Hoax” Hoax
An article – which exists for all celebrities on Mediamass – claims that reports of celebrity’s death are merely a hoax. Mediamass continually changes the date so that it appears that a death hoax has recently occurred for that celebrity. This often leads to some social media users finding the fake Mediamass article and refuting breaking news of a celebrity death as a hoax. The continual re-dating of these fake “death hoax” articles also leads some fans to point to the “coincidence” that a death hoax immediately preceded the celebrity’s actual death. In reality, there was no death hoax at all, as the Mediamass article likely existed years before the person’s actual death.
In a few high-profile cases, these articles have confused fans when a celebrity actually passes away. Virtually every recent celebrity death is initially rebutted by fans who find the fake Mediamass “death hoax” article. Some examples over the past several years include:
On July 8, 2012, Ernest Borgnine passed away at the age of 95. Some readers may have been confused by his “death hoax” article posted on Mediamass.
On October 27, 2013, news of the death of Lou Reed was angrily “refuted” by readers who found the fake “death hoax” article posted by Mediamass – unaware that it was not a true news story.
On November 30, 2013, immediately following reports of the death of actor Paul Walker, some readers posted the Mediamass “death hoax” article, believing the actor’s death was a hoax. Mediamass eventually changed the story. See the full Paul Walker “death hoax” story here.
On February 2, 2014, as news of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman broke, some fans called the reports a hoax based on the Mediamass report, while others marveled at the “coincidence” that a death hoax occurred days before the actor’s death. The only evidence of a death hoax, however, was the fake Mediamass article.
On February 24, 2014, when news that Harold Ramis of Ghostbusters fame had passed away, fans looking for verification ran across the fake Mediamass article and shared it, claiming reports of Ramis’ death were a hoax.
In March 2016, Nancy Reagan’s death was reported by TMZ, but some social media users stumbled across the fake Mediamass entry for her and declared the news to be a hoax. Others marveled of the “coincidence” that a death hoax occurred only a day before her actual death. In reality, Mediamass had simply re-dated their old post as they always do. Days later, initial reports of the death of George Martin were called a hoax by readers who found his bogus Mediamass “death hoax” entry.
Why do they do it? AKA “Media Fooled, Part 2”
One may wonder why such a website would exist at all. Although Mediamass claims to exist to somehow prove that journalism standards have waned in recent years, their website fits the model of poor “satire” published to grab easy back links, gain popularity, and eventually increase advertising revenue.
By the end of 2013, some writers had begun to catch on to Mediamass. In their attempts to “debunk” the fake site, however, these well-intended writers often include links to Mediamass in their articles. This practice falls into the hands of Mediamass, which gains free backlinks whenever an article is “debunked.” We encourage any writers seeking to debunk a bogus Mediamass article to include “nofollow” links, or no links at all.
Mediamass.net is a website which mass-produces fake stories in the name of humor. It appears that the joke is on those legitimate news websites which have unknowingly been fooled into citing fake articles by Mediamass and giving them free back links in return.
Perhaps the biggest lesson learned here is that those attempting to present legitimate news reports must exercise caution with their choice of sources in this age of hoaxes, rumors, and fake news sites such as Mediamass.net.
Updated March 8, 2016