Beware of death hoaxes, powered by social media, that go viral one tweet at a time.

It’s a Saturday afternoon, and your cell phone rings: it’s your company’s CEO. Curious why the CEO would choose to call you on a quiet Saturday, you answer, only to hear a relieved voice on the end: “Oh Jack, you don’t know how relieved I am to hear your voice.”

In this instance, as it would turn out, someone with the same name as Jack had his obituary resurface on social media, and people in Jack’s extended circle assumed the worst. While it can be cleared up with a call or a text to those who have seen the obituary, what if it was more complex than that?

We’ve seen the death rumors, where A-List celebrities have to remind people, “Hey! I’m here! Alive and well!” For high profile or high-net worth individuals, the process to clear up this kind of rumor – or any false information – can be painstaking and also result in financial and reputational damage. So how can they protect themselves?

  • Don’t share too much personal info. In the age of social media, it’s easy to share pieces of your life with your followers, but oversharing can be dangerous. For bad actors, shared details about your life online can provide the breadcrumb needs to concoct a false narrative about your death. A cautious approach can safeguard parts of your life from the public eye and also help prevent any false rumors.
  • Know what’s out there. It can be difficult to get your arms around just how much information is available on you – but conducting an online risk assessment can help. An online risk assessment not only identifies what is available about you, but it can also determine if you are vulnerable to someone driving a fictional – yet believable – story about your alleged death.
  • Monitor regularly. Even if you are being vigilant with your social media sharing practices, it’s critical to monitor activity that could impact you. Have a monitoring service in place that can search every iteration of your name across social media, blogs, and sites like Reddit. This way, if false information is out there about you, or fake profiles are being created, this service can detect and alert you about activity that may impact you early to help minimize the damage being done.
  • Get in front of it. No matter how cautious you are, have a plan to get in front of any rumors or false information that could be damaging. Issue a statement or visual assets like photographs or video to settle disparities, including death rumors. Most importantly, get in touch with family, friends, and business partners to limit emotional and other damages, including reputational or financial. Getting a panicked phone call from a business partner or loved one if the wrong information is out there about you is something you’ll never forget – so best to take proactive measures to put an end to it before it gets out of hand.

You can’t control everything that happens online, but having a handle on your digital footprint is key for peace of mind. With these steps, you can help ensure the online “you” is living and breathing and just as alive as you are.