At 8:47am on 24 February, 2012, the world heard of the untimely death of the entertainer Gregg Jevin. Earlier that morning, Mr Jevin was reported to have accidentally sat on his keys, a seemingly innocuous act that an anonymous coroner put forward as the cause of Jevin's death. News of his passing spread across the internet, and became one of the day's top trending topics. A hashtag - #RIPGreggJevin - was hastily adopted, and Mr Jevin's fans came together in mourning.
Who Was Gregg Jevin?
As reminiscences poured in, it became easy to build up a picture of who Gregg Jevin was:
A comic, tap-dancer, filmstar and the original bassist with the band Shed Seven, Jevin had touched the lives of millions in a glittering career that took him from dancing the streets of Hollywood to stacking the shelves of Waterstones.
For some reason, no archive footage of Mr Jevin's acts came to light, and people were left wondering who this enigmatic, yet universally beloved character truly was.
Fortunately, the clearest picture of Mr Jevin's life and times came from the announcement of his death.
Sad to say that Gregg Jevin, a man I just made up, has died. #RIPGreggJevin
– Michael Legge - Comic
Twitter's Trending Topics
It's apparent from his death notice that Gregg Jevin may never even have been born, let alone killed in a tragic accident involving his keys.
In the weeks and months leading up to Jevin's demise, Twitter had been awash with people mourning celebrities they'd neither heard of nor particularly cared for, just because that person was being talked about. On Twitter, if a certain number of people mention a specific word or topic in their Tweets, then that word or topic begins to 'trend'. That means that users are notified that everyone is talking about this topic, and that the conversations are there to be joined.
The result is that as people fall over each other to be the first to break the news of a celebrity death, Twitter instantly places that death on the Trending Topics list. Unfortunately, this leads to sad and lonely folks inventing stories about Jeff Goldblum being killed in a jet-ski accident, in order to grab their fifteen minutes of fame as the person who 'broke' a non-existent story.
So despite the fact he could just have been a comic creation, mere hours after Gregg Jevin's death, he'd hit the trending topics on both sides of the Atlantic. What's more, he'd become the third most talked about news story in the world, and had hit the online editions of The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian1.
The World Mourns a Legend
#RIPGreggJevin had become a satirical juggernaut. And people all over the world were clamouring to get in on the joke:
I got down to the last 2 for the double of The Ghost/Osric on tour in 1972. Gregg Jevin got it. I could have had his career. #RIPGreggJevin
– Colin Baker - Actor, The Sixth 'Doctor Who'
It's part of Gregg Jevin Night, which includes his films Tears from a Face (1975), Warm Protocol (1981) and Elephant! (1986) #RIPGreggJevin.
– Radio Times - BBC TV Listings Magazine
Gregg Jevin was the world's most dedicated animal rights activist, right up until his death #RIPGreggJevin
– PETA - Animal Rights Activists
With everyone from actors to news outlets jumping on the #RIPGreggJevin bandwagon, rumours began to spread. Could Gregg Jevin be real? Could he have existed? Or was Michael Legge just making a point about Twitter being an unreliable news source that could be unduly influenced by egotists?
An Enigma in Death
It's fair to say that future historians will be torn on whether or not Gregg Jevin ever existed. While no birth certificate or post mortem report will ever be found, trusted sources such as The BBC and Huffington Post have marked his passing. And surely, the hundreds of thousands of Tweets indexed in the US Library of Congress couldn't all be part of some elaborate in-joke. Could they?
But regardless of who, what and whether Gregg Jevin ever was, it's fair to say that his senseless passing at the pointy metal hands of his own car keys will stand as an important lesson to a generation raised on instant access to social media information.
Don't believe everything you read on Twitter.