You simply can’t trust everything you read online, and in an election year in which even the president seems to struggle with wild conspiracy theories the concept of media literacy is more important than ever. The latest example of this is the wild rumor that circulated late this week that Saved By The Bell actor Dustin Diamond was murdered in a prison riot.
That’s not true, mind you, and several outlets had to issue fact checks on Thursday and Friday over the rumor that started on social media that Diamond, who had legal trouble in 2015 and violated parole the next year, had died in prison. The posts that circulated on social media were unsubstantiated, but drew huge numbers online to the point that sites like Snopes actually wrote about the report, dispelling it as [heavy sigh] fake news. As the site pointed out, a “satirical” site had initially posted a fake story about his death in early October, but it took a few days for it to get hooks into people on social media and spread as a rumor. Here’s the report that Snopes cited:
Dustin “Screech” Diamond (43), was finishing up a 15 year sentence for a stabbing that happened after someone criticized his comedic skills and heckled him at a comedy club, when he was tragically struck down in prison resulting in his death.
With 2 months left to serve, Diamond was looking forward to getting home in time for the holidays, when on Saturday October 3, 2020 a riot broke out in the wing he resided. Dustin heard a commotion and leaned out his cell to seem what was going on. A rush of prisoners were coming his way. “Suddenly Diamond was on the ground bleeding profusely and non responsive to medical attention”, says warden Mark MacDouglas.
Reuters reported more details about the site that started the unsubstantiated rumor, pointing out that no other reference to the actor who played Screech Powers’ death could be found anywhere else legitimate.
In its ‘About Us’ section ringsssss.com/about-us/ , Ringsssss describes itself as a “fabricated satirical newspaper and comedy website” that uses fictional names in its stories “except in cases when public figures are being satirized.”
The death of a public figure like this would have gathered significant attention and would have been reported by news organizations. Aside from the satirical article, Reuters found no other report.
Some did this fact-checking a better than others, it should be pointed out.
— Toronto Sun (@TheTorontoSun) October 16, 2020
It is worth noting that the last time Diamond made major news it was for violating his probation, which apparently landed him back in jail. But as Reuters noted, he reportedly served two additional days before his release. It’s not clear where Diamond is, but the report that he was killed in prison was definitely incorrect.