A fake CNN site started a viral hoax. Radio stations blamed CNN.

A fake CNN site started a viral hoax. Radio stations blamed CNN.

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Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

Update: Barbara Bush passed away on April 17.

A hoax from a fake CNN website that claimed former first lady Barbara Bush had passed away has gone viral on social media. It was also amplified by numerous radio stations, and some stations blamed CNN for the hoax.

On April 15, a spokesperson for the Bush family announced that Barbara Bush was in “failing health” and had “decided not to seek additional medical treatment and will instead focus on comfort care.”

On the morning of April 16, ”breaking-cnn.com" published a hoax article headlined “Former first lady Barbara Bush dies at 92” that claimed a Bush family spokesman said she had “died ‘peacefully in her sleep.’”

The hoax article went viral quickly and currently has at least two million Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. Contributing to the spread on social media were a number of radio stations that shared the link, including KCOH-TV and KMRK-FM of Texas, WZAB-AM of Florida, WJML-AM of Michigan, WFNC-AM and WQSM-FM of North Carolina, as well as conservative South Carolina radio host Vince Coakley. Other individuals and groups that shared it include a Telemundo correspondent, a Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter, the AARP, and the Lake County, OH, Republican Party.

Even among people who realized it was a hoax, some blamed CNN. A host on Colorado’s KFKA-AM said that “CNN’s in more trouble again” for pushing “fake news,” and played a song that repeated the line, “You lying sack of crap.” Hosts on California KFI-AM said, “Did you see that CNN killed Barbara Bush last night?” On the show BJ & Jamie on Colorado’s KALC-FM, a host apologized for sharing the hoax but said that “it was from CNN.”

CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist has refuted the hoax and noted it was from a “bogus website posing as CNN.”

Other reporters noted and called out out the hoax as well.

The site is likely connected to a network of sites that regularly push death hoaxes. A Facebook account that says it’s based in Ghana has spammed the hoax into multiple Facebook groups, suggesting the fake CNN site has a connection to Africa (foreign spammers on Facebook are an international problem).

This is not the first time a website pretending to be a major outlet has published a hoax that got traction online. During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump’s campaign managers Kellyanne Conway and Corey Lewandowski and his son Eric shared hoaxes from a fake ABC News website. Other debunked hoaxes have been published on another site pretending to be ABC News.

Besides contributing to radio’s ongoing fake news problem, these fake news sites endanger public trust in the mainstream outlets they’re pretending to be.

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