Celebrity Deaths as Told on Social Media Platforms

By: Katherine Corah

Celebrity deaths as told on social media platforms have really transformed the way news gets conveyed to the public. Earlier this week, an unfortunate helicopter accident killed 9 passengers, 2 of them being Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. On Sunday, January 26, the entire country seemed to come together to mourn the loss of one of the greatest basketball players in the world. However, the way the news was presented has some questions. There have been many tweets, posts and comments saying, “Many journalists should lose their job after today.” Twitter

TMZ reported the loss of the two before their family was informed of their loss. This shows how the media has no remorse and just wanted to get the news out as soon as possible without even considering the feelings and emotions of their family. Along with Kobe and Gianna were two parents and their daughter. Their names were released because the family gave consent to people knowing their family members passed away. There were three more passengers and the pilot who’s names have not been released due to the family wanting it to be private for now. Had the Bryant family wanted to keep it private, they never got the choice. The media got word of Kobe being on the helicopter and wanted to post it as soon as they got the news to get more visits to their website and take credit for getting the story out first. 

Many people are grieving over the loss of their favorite basketball player. All over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are videos in tribute to Kobe Bryant. Twitter Video

Another example of how the media jumps on news to post first is Cameron Boyce’s death in July of 2019. When word got out of his death, Twitter feeds were filled with photos and videos of Boyce. The way I found out about his death was a tweet from James Charles early in the morning.  James Charles’ Tweet

Fans all of a sudden started posting pictures of Boyce they had to Google or made videos they found on YouTube. It’s shocking that if many fans never once said anything about Boyce on social media and suddenly when he dies, they use social platforms to immediately “show their support and love for their ‘favorite’ actor”. Celebrities deserve to be remembered for who they are and yet fans promote then the second they become a trending hashtag.

Death, alone, is a time to be with family, to grieve and to reflect on the lives of those we have lost. It’s a shame that celebrities have a lack of privacy and respect, especially when they have passed away. The problem with social media today is that families don’t have a chance to grieve or remember their loved one because the news blows up and is everywhere to be seen. There should be a rule that news of deaths should be announced strictly by the family if they wish to do so. Anything can be posted once a rumor is started and that can cause chaos.

Twitter: @katiecorah2

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Blog: Medium @katiecorah

This Article Has 10 Comments
  1. Michael Robelli says:

    I definitely agree that there should be a law that restricts any sort of news outlet or voice from disclosing such personal information without permission from family members. I think this will be the only fix, as companies like TMZ will never stop this behavior until legally made to do so; there are simply too many literal clicks at stake, and they’ll never be ones to consciously pass on such a massive story. I really hope they apologize to the family, as they need any sort of positivity in their lives right now. Something like a formal apology and promise to do better won’t fix it, but it’s a step in the right direction. I’m sure TMZ’s rationale was something along the lines of, “well, everyone is going to find out anyway even if they decide to keep it private for awhile.” But it’s obvious that’s not their call.

  2. Em Chan says:

    I definitely agree that the line between being newsworthy, timely and emphatic gets smudged with stories that have such high-profile names. TMZ has been notorious for simply wanting to break stories regardless of the human impact. I also doubt that they’ll have some formal apology for the Bryant family, since their reputation does speak for them.
    There doesn’t seem to be a real way that news organizations will be able to be as emphatic until there is a culture change, with a consensus around how organizations break news. The reputation that precedes TMZ includes being ruthless and only caring about the bottom line – not until the leadership gets fired (which I agree TMZ’s current staff should also be removed) will there be a shift towards emphatic and human centric reporting.

  3. Cassidy Stevens says:

    I definitely agree with you. I didn’t even realize that TMZ released the news before Kobe’s family knew. It’s a disgusting side of the media to try and get news out without even verifying the family knows. I do think the media can play a positive part in commemorating the loss of celebrities but maintaining privacy for family members is crucial and morally right.

  4. Molly Kavanaugh says:

    The issue of a celebrity passing away the public finding out before their family is a very sad and interesting topic that I often don’t consider when reading about celebrity deaths in the media. I think that media outlets rarely consider the personal feelings of celebrities families because they rush to be the first outlet to share the news. In the case of TMZ and Kobe Bryant, TMZ should definitely reach out and apologize to the Bryant family for disclosing such personal information without their consent. It is really unfortunate that there are not any laws or restrictions against doing something like this, but hopefully there will be a change in the future.

  5. Hayley Williamson says:

    I think this is a very relevant and important topic. The Bryant family lost all privacy in the wake of a horrible tragedy due to media outlets wanting to release information as quickly as possible. In the future, I agree that media outlets need to give more respect to families and the privacy that they deserve. Additionally, I noticed that Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, had turned her Instagram account onto a private setting. I would assume she did this to prevent mass amounts of people from commenting their condolences on recent photos she has posted. I agree with you again and have also noticed that families of celebrities are given no time to grieve or have privacy, as the news is everywhere.

  6. Ashley Peters says:

    Katherine, I think it was well thought out of you to use current headlining news to address an issue that should really be more talked about. It is absolutely disgusting to me that Kobes family got the news of the tragic death after TMZ had announced it to the whole world. Not only is that highly insensitive of TMZ but it also sets a standard for all media that indicates it’s okay to report on topics such as this one, without hearing from families first. I too agree that in the event of a high profile death, it shouldn’t be announced without permission from the family first as it is such an awful time and families deserve to respond when and how they wish.

  7. Caitlin Wahlers says:

    Katherine, thank you for sharing this. I think that the ways we grapple and process death is incredibly personal, but the development of social media has fundamentally changed this process. In regards to the untimely death of Kobe Bryant, he made a conscious decision to be a public figure, and news outlets report on information that is relevant to the public. (In some cases, I would argue that families of public figures are more prepared to be in the spotlight than those of nonpublic figures.) Once we limit who and what a person or entity can share, we then traverse into censorship. Should TMZ have informed the family first, yes, of course, they should have. While I like Michale’s idea of enacting some form of legislation, how far would that go? More importantly, however, I would ask about the role of users, because without their active participation the news would not have spread as quickly.

  8. Abigail Portwood says:

    Katherine, I completely agree that TMZ is in the wrong in this situation. Of course, news media outlets want to be the first to report on a story, but is the harm they are doing to the victim’s families and friends really worth it? TMZ is notorious for attempting to release all news first, and it would not be surprising if the backlash increased after each time they do this. It is saddening to think that the family of Kobe Bryant could have found out this news online. The TMZ article had a lot of speculation as to whether or not it was fake, considering that for about 30 minutes they were the only ones who had released any information about the tragic accident. When people catch news of something this tragic, they don’t want to believe that it is true. It was not until many other news outlets released stories that people began to understand the reality of the situation. If TMZ bases their success on being the first ones to report, it would be interesting to see how they do if there were some type of regulations put in place. The employees at TMZ should understand what they do is wrong and insensitive, but unfortunately sometimes in their eyes the backlash is worth the recognition and credibility.

  9. Miranda Menard says:

    I was wondering the same thing when I heard the news about Kobe, how did his family find out? Were they enjoying their Sunday morning when all of a sudden texts and social media alerts bombarded them with the tragic news? I think there needs to be regulations of some sort for news outlets like TMZ because they clearly are not able to empathize with people during times like these, because they want to get the story first and advance their own company. I think a key player in this issue though, are the people that turn to these outlets for news and information. They would be less likely to invade celebrities lives if there wasn’t such a high demand for it.

  10. Mark Yasak says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Katherine. Unfortunately, moments like this seem to bring out both the best and worst aspects of social media. In today’s never ending news cycle, every outlet wants to be the first to report breaking news like this story, and the result is exactly what we saw with TMZ last week. With the story still developing and many pieces of information still unconfirmed, TMZ decided to share the news on Twitter to beat other sources to the punch and take credit for the story. But this isn’t just a problem with TMZ, because if they didn’t break the news then another media outlet likely would have done so shortly after. For the next several hours after the initial post, dozens of different media outlets began to share their own coverage of the story, most of which was filled with inaccuracies and misinformation. And, exactly like you said, all of this was happening before the family members of the victims were able to be informed about the tragedy. This is undoubtedly a difficult issue to resolve, but to do so I think we would need to take steps to develop universally accepted standards for breaking news on social media, especially when the story involves the death of a prominent figure that is sure to spread quickly and before all information can be confirmed.

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