Dead or alive? Fake news murder Vietnamese celebrities

By Ha Thu, Long Nguyen   January 29, 2021 | 02:22 am PT
Several Vietnamese celebrities, victims of an online trend of spreading rumors, are having to deal with their deaths while they are still alive.

On January 19, senior musician Tran Tien was sitting with his family when he learned Vietnamese netizens were discussing his death.

"I am fine. Why do they want me to die?" he said on the phone, saying the house had received dozens of calls in the morning from people thinking he had passed.

News of his death spread fast and wide on the Internet. "He was killed on the Internet," Tien’s wife, Bich Nga, told a friend.

Tien is the latest Vietnamese artist over the last few years who has to deal with fake news about his death.

Musician Tran Tien is the latest Vietnamese celebrity facing a death hoax. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Musician Tran Tien is the latest Vietnamese celebrity to be the subject of a death hoax. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

On January 17, comedian Thuy Nga received messages from her fans enquiring about her death.

A lot of YouTubers had used Nga’s photos and used them in videos of a funeral, saying Nga had passed away after a stroke in America.

Nga had faced a similar situation six months earlier, with netizens saying she had died of the novel coronavirus.

Senior singer Khanh Ly and comedian Hoai Linh are among those whose deaths have been announced, picked up and spread wide on the worldwide web.

Even a young and popular artist like Son Tung M-TP has not been spared. He was shocked to hear people say that he had died of a terminal illness. Singer Phan Dinh Tung has complained on his Facebook page that he woke up one morning to read that he had died.

Morbid curiosity

The death hoax panders to and taps morbid curiosity among the population, including netizens. The shocking nature of the news guarantees viewership and attention on social media as curious netizens click and spread it.

Saigon-based psychologist Truong Thi Thuy Hang says celebrities and showbiz stories are always an attention magnet. Many internet users who want to garner increasing amounts of attention use these hoaxes.

"When there is no valid content to present, they generate rumors and death hoaxes, which is completely inhumane," Hang said.

Many online sellers have used clickbait news to earn more attention from netizens, which can help them approach more potential patrons on the Internet.

According to lawyer Tran Minh Hung in Ho Chi Minh City, financial benefits from sharing these types of news are usually higher than the penalty, prompting many to make up fake stories.

Celebrities and their families are the first victims of such hoaxes, which can cause shock, emotional pain and extreme anxiety.

In a January 19 press release, Tran Tien’s daughter said: "The false rumor has strongly affected our family, my father, and his fans."

Singer Ha Tran, Tien’s niece, also said that his family was "shocked and embittered."

In 2018, senior actor Cong Ninh’s family was in shock after reading news of his death while he was filming in a jungle in the Central Highlands with no network reach.

"My wife and children cried all night because they could not call me... How can people think death rumors are some kind of entertainment?" Ninh wondered.

Khanh Ly’s children were also horrified after people asked them if their mother’s body had been taken home.

"My poor children, they were scared because they were too naive. Until now, they have no idea why people did that to us," Ly said.

After suffering the same fate several times, Hoai Linh shrugs off such rumors now.

In 2017, he posted a selfie with "news" about his death, telling those posting it to check their spelling.

"If you have free time, you should focus on making money to help your family. If you post news about my death to gain more viewers, that is fine; I will think that I do charitable work and will not be sad," he announced.

International celebrities who have suffered repeated death hoaxes include Jacky Chan, Stephen Chow, Liu Xiao Ling Tong and Andy Lau of China.

In the U.S., Bob Dylan, Britney Spears, and Taylor Swift have faced similar issues.

In Vietnam, a decree effective April 2020, imposes a fine of VND10-20 million ($426-$853) for taking advantage of social networks to spread fake information, slander or insult agencies and organizations, lower the honor or dignity of individuals; promote superstition, obscenity or depravity that is incompatible with the nation's traditions and customs; providing and sharing information describing the act of killing and horror, graphic images.

But no one has been punished so far for generating fake news of celebrity deaths.

Minh Duc, a senior journalist who works with many artists, said people should remain calm and double check after reading news about the deaths of celebrities.

"If they want to spread news about someone’s death, they should look around, ask 90 people, and read 900 news items," Duc said.

Lawyer Hung suggested authorities manage social network information more carefully to ensure proper online conduct.

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