How rumors get started and spread ... Oh, and Tedy Bruschi is NOT dead

The Internet and e-mail do many things remarkably well ... but few better than spreading rumors.

So it is around Boston this morning as the mainstream media tip-toes into debunking a totally baseless rumor that a prominent Boston athlete had died suddenly - a totally baseless rumor, which, by the way, apparently originated with the mainstream media.

First, the important part: New England Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi is alive and well, thankfully, despite a crescendo of 'Net-fueled murmurings to the contrary.

Non-football fans should know that Bruschi has become a sentimental favorite because he survived a stroke (a fact that no doubt lent credence to an otherwise unsubstantiated rumor). This post is representative of the kind of angst the rumor caused:

About 30 minutes ago, my father's girlfriend called to say she heard Tedy Bruschi died. Supposedly, she heard from her brother-in-law who heard from his friend who had heard from his friend, and so on. My dad came barreling down the stairs in tears as if it was my grandmother. Tedy Bruschi is his hero after all. My dad was told that this occurred within the last hour.

The un-news about the not dead Bruschi spread with ferocity, and this morning was still making the rounds in many circles: WEEI radio talk show host John Denis said this morning about 10 a.m. that the station had already received at least 30 calls inquiring about Bruschi. The taskmasters quickly and emphatically debunked the rumor, without mentioning Bruschi by name (a choice made by some, but obviously not all media outlets).

Others have leapt into debunking mode; examples here, here, and here. It's even getting batted around by squabbling Wikipedians who are editing and re-editing Bruschi's page there.

A local TV news outlet is being widely blamed as the ignition point for the rumor, although I have to tell you that this, too, is unconfirmed. Once the TV reporter started asking questions, other journalists followed suit, and soon the there would be no closing the barn door.

This kind of thing happens all the time on the Internet, of course, and I have no great words of wisdom regarding what might be done to minimize future outbreaks.

Just glad this one turned out to have a happy ending.

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