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Britney Spears Is Dead ... Oops, Nevermind!

False rumors cause international uproar

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(Originally posted: 06/14/01)

THE FRANTIC queries began appearing on Internet message boards Tuesday night (June 12, 2001). "Is Britney Spears dead?" one person asked in the alt.music newsgroup. "Kramer and Twitch are reporting it on KEGL radio 97.1 in Dallas. Her official website bulletin board is down. One rumor is she died in a car crash driven by Justine Timberlake. The other is that she died of an overdose. Hope neither are true."

A similar note was posted in alt.gossip.celebrities: "Just heard on the radio here in Phoenix that Britney Spears was killed and Justin Timberlake was seriously injured in a drunk driving accident. Anyone heard the same?"

One egregiously misspelled message in alt.fan.britney-spears appeared to confirm the worst: "At 5:54 PST Britney Spears was prounced dead at Mt. Sinia hospitial from blunt trama sustained in an auto accident driven by Justin Timberlake. As of 7:27 PST Justin's condition is questionable and remains in ICU. Source: Associated Press."

Car collided with 'pretzel van'

By early Wednesday the "news" was everywhere. The URL of a purported BBC news story offering full details of the tragic accident — including a description of the "pretzel van" that allegedly collided with Spears' car — was forwarded via email around the world. Frantic fans from as far away as Australia flooded the police and fire departments in L.A. — where according to some versions of the rumor the accident occurred — with phone calls demanding to know if it was true.

"No, it isn't true," callers were told one-by-one by overwhelmed staffers. "It didn't happen. There was no such accident."

Radio station apologizes; BBC says Web page was a fake

The originator of the Spears-Timberlake "news," Radio station KEGL "The Eagle" in Dallas, issued a statement on Wednesday night confirming that nighttime DJs Kramer and Twitch had aired an "erroneous" report and apologized for any "confusion" they may have caused. The San Jose-based disc jockeys themselves, infamous for their self-styled "extreme" on-air pranks, could not be reached for comment. Reportedly they have been suspended.

In turn, the BBC announced Wednesday that the Web page purporting to be a legitimate BBC news item was a hoax. A spokesperson said the network was considering legal action against the perpetrator, who used a spoofed URL and graphics stolen from the BBC site to make it appear that the story was real.

Finally, publicist Lisa Kasteler issued a terse statement on the pop stars' behalf: "There is no truth to the rumor circulating around the world that Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were involved in a car accident on Tuesday."

By Thursday, the Internet furor had died down and fans were breathing a sigh of relief as they shared information and opinions about the hoax. End of story? Probably not. A spokesperson for the record label to which both artists are signed said representatives are investigating the affair to determine if legal action is warranted.

Update

Britney Spears dead again? In October 2001 a hacker reposted the now-familiar "Britney Died in a Car Crash" story on a Web page mimicking CNN.com. After receiving over 120,000 hits in a 12-hour period, it was determined (yet again) to be a hoax. The hacker, identified as Tim Fries of Saginaw, Michigan, claimed he created the bogus page for the purposes of "research." More: Britney Spears Hacked into CNN.com (Newsbytes.com).

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