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03/07/2020 The Communication Science magazine

Hold the presses, Queen Elizabeth is not dead!

A screenshot of a WhatsApp-chat made people believe Queen Elizabeth II had died. It’s not the first time a hoax has made it to the news, and surely won’t be the last.


This time it just seemed real. Though my friends would say that I am the kind of person who’d believe just about anything (just last week I was convinced Mike Tyson had died), this time it just seemed different: Queen Elizabeth II of England had, apparently, passed away on Sunday night and the British would have to make do with prince/king Charles from now on. But, as so often before, I was fooled again by a hoax.

What started off as just as a message on WhatsApp quickly spread around social media and eventually even made its way to Buckingham Palace itself: the queen had died. Man of the hour Gibbo, as is seen in the screenshot, was told so by a guard and decided to tell his friends Elizabeth had departed life. As a true modern day Shakespeare he casually wrote: “Queens passed away this morning, heart attack, being announced 930 Am tomorrow”. What’s not to trust? That same sentence was said by many at the offices of the Mirror and Metro, two of England’s biggest tabloids, and so the rumour came to life until the Royal Family decided it was enough and stated that Elizabeth was, in fact, very much alive.

Expect the unexpected
There was reason to believe the story: the queen was planning on abandoning the throne, a feud broke out earlier this year between her majesty and newlyweds Harry and Meghan  and she is also just really, really old. 93 years old, to be exact. But as so often these days, the news was fake. Just like the aforementioned death of Mike Tyson, just like the 9/11 tourist guy and just like so many others. A hoax, or as the broader definition says ‘a humorous or malicious deception’, has become more and more common over the years.

Elizabeth was, in fact, very much alive.

How and when exactly the phenomenon came into existence is unclear, but what is a fact is that hoaxes have been present for over 50 years: the moon-landing is by some regarded as a fake, manipulated piece of propaganda in order to put the war with Russia to bed. When the Americans broadcast their (so-called) moon-landing, as much as 30% of the population of the USA deemed the footage a hoax, despite the physical evidence and the iconic flag-posting. Nowadays, ‘only’ 6% of the people question the fact that Neil Armstrong jumped out of the spaceship 385.000 kilometres away.

Upcoming trend
A hoax is not the same as just a conspiracy theory or a lie, though it does get mixed up a lot. Where a hoax is at least intended as a joke, a conspiracy theory (or even a lie) is defined with negatives. Something a hoax is correctly associated with is fake news. A little story on a politician or celebrity, as false as it may be, can have a lasting influence in the polls or even elections. Sometimes even complete websites are made up with false stories and little back up, just to spite the other party and blaming them for things they don’t even do. In Indonesia, so much disinformation was spread that it was feared the elections were not even legitimate anymore. It’s the dark side of what all started off as a lightly joke or an attempt to inform others.

This will definitely not be the last hoax you will ever come across

As the Financial Times reported earlier this year, hoaxes are becoming a more and more prevalent problem in industries too, due to the increase of social media use. A whopping 84% of companies fear the digital hearsay, as many internet stories do not get double checked but do get spread around.  The newspaper concluded that “businesses are now operating in more complex and volatile markets than ever, relying on a broader network of third parties and becoming increasingly digitised. In many cases, they’re also putting their reputations in the hands of social media influencers.” Often this creates more value for the markets and companies, but when it goes wrong it’s hard to reassure the affected.

For that one reader who is just about as gullible as this author, I can reassure you: Queen Elizabeth II is still alive. And so is Mike Tyson. One thing however, is that this will definitely not be the last hoax you will ever come across. As a matter of fact, it will only increase. Even though various solutions like fact-checkers have come to live, the amount of deceiving jokes will increase through social media, alternative media and a bunch of people with wrong intentions – Gibbo, I’m looking at you. For now, however, it might come in handy to not believe everything a random WhatsApp-chat posted on Twitter. I do know I won’t believe everything as easily next time, or at least until Mike Tyson dies (again).

Cover: Pexels

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