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Uberti: One small step backward for Twitterkind

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on the lunar

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. (Credit: AP, 1969)

Neil Armstrong is dead. Still.

Social media erupted today with an outpouring of condolences and memories honoring the first man to walk on the moon. Problem is, Armstrong died a year ago.

That’s not the amount of time it takes for news to travel to our lunar satellite and back. But it may be the period required for the attention-span-deprived, 17-second-news-cycle-craving Twittersphere to forget that one of the most famous people of the 20th century is already dead. Countless social media users — from the MIT Technology Review to a former deputy Secretary of State and Brookings Institution scholar — blindly expressed their grief.

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The confusion began after ABC News updated its tribute to Armstrong, originally published after his death on August 25, 2012, though shared again this week to commemorate his passing. But ABC’s mobile site displayed the old headline — "Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, is Dead” — which wasn’t changed for the new date of publication.

Checking facts has always been a giant leap for Twitterkind.

Remember Lil Wayne’s brush with social media mortality in March? The codeine-guzzling emcee was pronounced dead via Twitter after TMZ reported he was in a coma and near death. Hundreds of thousands of fans, myself included, shared “RIP” messages, scorned his drug use and argued about their favorite songs in tribute. Yet just hours later, the New Orleans rapper rose from the 140-character dead with a tweet of his own.

You know you’ve “made it” nowadays once Twitter users start speculating that you’re pushing daisies. Kanye West, Morgan Freeman, Justin Bieber, Pope Benedict XVI and others have all been declared dead online. Such hoaxes are becoming more commonplace on social media, if not acceptable.

But the Armstrong blunder carries a more depressing hue. The most famous astronaut in the world passed away 367 days ago. He’s not only merely dead, he’s really most sincerely dead. There was already a flood of compassionate tributes and shared memories of his 1969 moon walk.

Even though tools like Twitter provide us more information faster than ever before, it’s abundantly clear that we don’t or can’t or won’t absorb it. That’s one small step for man — a step back, that is. 

Tags: social media , facebook , twitter , neil armstrong , obituary

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