No, Queen Elizabeth isn’t dead, although Twitter hoax tricked plenty

The news had an air of believ­ability: Queen Elizabeth is 90 years old and has been in poor health recently

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 7:04pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 January, 2017, 9:29pm

Many people would argue 2016 was the year of celebrity deaths. Some might say it was the year

of so-called fake news. One story shows it may have been both.

Late on Thursday, the Twitter account @BBCNewsUKI sent out a message claiming Buckingham Palace had announced the death of Queen Elizabeth. “Circumstances are unknown,” the tweet read. “More details to follow.”

The news had an air of believ­ability: Elizabeth is 90 and has been in poor health recently.

Last year, for the first time in three decades, she failed to attend a Christmas Day church service near her country home in Norfolk after suffering what was described as a “heavy cold.” The queen has not appeared in public since.

Additionally, if the queen were to pass away, it is the BBC that would make the announcement. Britain’s public service broad­caster is known to hold regular ­rehearsals in case a member of the royal family dies unexpectedly.

Guidelines were produced and laminated. Elaborate chains of editorial command were established
Jeremy Paxman on rehearsals for royal deaths

The tweet, of course, was not real. @BBCNewsUKI followed up its tweet with the rather less-BBC-like message, “Love a Tuesday off if the queens dead, announce it before it’s too late.” While it was clearly a joke, Twitter swiftly suspended the user’s account.

But rumours the queen was dead sparked a frenzy online, with users adding condolences and others trying to verify the claim. By Friday, it was one of the top trending topics on Twitter – though many of the tweets appeared to be mocking the idea. Such conspiratorial thinking may be strange, but understandable.

In 2015, a real BBC journalist sent out a tweet that briefly ­created chaos in newsrooms around the world. It said: “Queen Elizabrth [sic] has died.”

The reporter quickly deleted the tweet and the BBC said it was sent during a “technical rehearsal for an obituary”. The incident seemed to confirmed rehearsals for the death of a monarch occur.

If a “Category 1” royal – a list ­including the queen, Prince Charles and Prince William – dies, the BBC would quickly put together a ­sombre event. Given the complexity, journalists are expected to rehearse for it. BBC’s Jeremy Paxman once said journalists were expected every six months to go through the procedure for Queen Elizabeth’s death.

“Guidelines were produced and laminated,” wrote Paxman in his book On Royalty. “Elaborate chains of editorial command were established ... Reporters would be dispatched to empty corridors and car-park basements, pretending to be at the gates of Buckingham Palace.”

It is unlikely, however, that a royal death would be officially ­announced on social media.