Media Mass Sam Neill Hoax

Reports of Sam Neill's death have been greatly exaggerated.

This week, website Media Mass reported on an online death hoax which claimed that Jurassic Park star Sam Neill had died. Celebrity death hoaxes are nothing new of course, but the report from Media Mass was, bizarrely, a hoax itself.

There was no Facebook page claiming the actor's death and their quote, said to be pulled from that page's About section, was entirely made up. The report itself caused a small buzz online, enough to prompt Neill into tweeting that he was fine contrary to online rumour.

MediaMass claims on its website to be about "media criticism through satire", describing themselves as so:

"The website is the medium of our satire to expose with humour, exaggeration and ridicule the contemporary mass production and mass consumption that we observe.

Also it will not only mock the producers (mainstream media, journalists) as it is common when questioning and criticizing mass media, but also the consumers as one cannot exist without the other. Sensationalism, lack of verification of information, ethics and standards issues are only symptoms of the actual social and economic order. This is particularly obvious when observing the role of social networking sites in spreading rumours."

Each of the site's "stories" contains an update one or two paragraphs in saying "UPDATE [insert date]: This story seems to be false. (read more)." That 'read more' takes the reader to the page explaining the nature of the website.

The site, as explained on Know Your Meme, is best known for articles debunking death hoaxes which never happened. Each of these articles, no matter who it's about – Justin Bieber, Harrison Ford, Samuel L Jackson – follows a set template with only names and occupations switched out.

As the Chicago Tribune explained earlier this year, this is that template:

"News of (actor/actress/singer)(insert name here)'s death spread quickly earlier this week causing concern among fans across the world. However the report has now been confirmed as a complete hoax and just the latest in a string of fake celebrity death reports. Thankfully, the (actor/actress/singer) best known for (insert something here) is alive and well."

Hundreds of these articles have been automatically generated for the sole purpose of gaining hits whenever that actor is inevitably in the news, and in turn fooling hundreds into thinking hundreds more have been fooled.

In 2014 MediaMass have twice courted controversy when their fake stories became entwined with real life.

A page about Phillip Seymour Hoffman was reported on after it surfaced around the time of the actor's (real) death in February, and another hoax-hoax regarding comedian Tracy Morgan was picked up around the time of the star's near-fatal car crash in June, from which Morgan is still slowly recovering.

Brass Eye
Chris Morris' Brass Eye is proper, genuine journalism satire. Channel 4

MediaMass might try to hide between a shield of alleged humour, but there is satire, and then there are flat out lies.

While not as covert as some other fake news sites such as the National Report - which yesterday falsely claimed artist Banksy had been arrested - their methods are transparent and expose their true nature.

Automatically generated articles falsely debunking fake stories are no more than an attempt to garner as many hits as possible and in turn generate revenue.

Theirs is a website which claims to expose hasty, poorly-researched journalism brought about by the internet age, but it is itself a site built on a mass of lies and misinformation.

Media Mass, if you want to learn what satire actually looks like, we suggest watching Brass Eye.