Fake Obituaries: A Troubling Trend

Fake Obituaries

You might remember flipping through the newspaper obituary section or watching your parents and grandparents do this while telling stories about the familiar names they spotted. In fact, before social media, obituaries were the primary way we kept up with the passing of friends, neighbors, and acquaintances.

Indeed, throughout history, preparing an obituary has held a special place in the traditions used to commemorate the death of a loved one. This unique remembrance allows us to celebrate and honor the deceased, inform the community, preserve family history, and begin the difficult journey through grief.

But times have changed. In today’s ever-evolving digital landscape, these tributes have moved online. Fewer people publish obituaries in papers these days. Instead, dozens of sites offer a place to put the information in virtual form.

At first glance, this seems positive since it means the information has a broader audience. And perhaps it would be a good thing if a darker aspect hadn’t arisen. That darker aspect is the rise of fake obituaries in virtual spaces. These fabricated stories, often brimming with misinformation or made-up details, can profoundly impact the families and friends of the deceased. The motivations behind fake obituaries vary, but whatever other reason, the consequences are very real.

Fake Obituaries Make the Journey Through Grief More Difficult

Obituaries serve a crucial purpose. They are a public acknowledgment of a person’s life, a way to share their accomplishments and stories with the world. For those left behind, they can be a source of comfort and a starting point for the healing process. Fake obituaries disrupt this delicate process.

Imagine searching for a loved one’s obituary online, only to find a fabricated story filled with inaccuracies or cruel lies. This can be incredibly upsetting for grieving families, reopening wounds and causing unnecessary emotional distress. Furthermore, fake obituaries can damage the deceased’s reputation, tarnishing their memory in the eyes of their community.

Artificial Intelligence: Less Work, More Misinformation

Ready access to artificial intelligence engines isn’t the cause of misinformation spreading through fake obituaries, but it’s not helping. With just a few keystrokes, an obituary with little regard for accurate information can be created. Websites that make money through online traffic can use fake obituaries to generate clicks. Keywords and dramatic headlines attract attention, which leads to more advertising money. Even more nefarious reasons can also exist — from petty revenge to attention-seeking. In some cases, fake obituaries are linked to online scams. Fraudsters can use fake obituaries to solicit donations or exploit grieving individuals. Regardless of the reason, the impact on those affected is undeniable.

These fabricated stories can be easily shared on social media, amplifying bad information. This can be particularly harmful to public figures or individuals who have passed away under unusual circumstances. It also causes confusion for everyday people and funeral homes that rely on obituaries to get the word out.

Fake obituaries can also erode trust in legitimate sources of information. If people can’t be sure whether an obituary is real, they may be less likely to trust any online obituary altogether. This can make it difficult for grieving families to share their loved one’s story in a way that is both accurate and respectful.

The Fight Against Fake Obituaries

Combating fake obituaries is not simple. It will require a concerted effort from both the funeral industry and consumers.

  • Fact-Checking by Funeral Homes and Platforms: Funeral homes are responsible for verifying the information they publish in obituaries. This can be done by requiring documentation, such as death certificates, before publishing an obituary. Online platforms that host obituaries can also play a role by implementing fact-checking measures.
  • Reporting Mechanisms: Online platforms should have precise reporting mechanisms for users to flag suspicious obituaries. This will allow them to investigate and take appropriate action, such as removing the fake obituary. If you spot an obituary with inaccurate information, particularly in a trusted publication, report it.
  • Legislative Solutions: There are currently no specific laws against fake obituaries. Legal experts believe that existing laws against harassment and defamation could be applied in some instances. In the future, legislators may also consider creating specific laws to address this issue.

Remember the Human Cost

Fake obituaries are about lack of respect for the deceased and their loved ones. These fabricated stories are not harmless pranks; they can have a real and lasting impact on those who are already grieving. By working together, funeral homes, online platforms, and the public can take steps to combat this trend and ensure that obituaries remain a place of truth and remembrance.

Remember that obituaries are not just online articles; they are tributes to real people who lived and loved. They deserve to be treated with respect and accuracy.

How Can You Spot a Fake Obituary?

If you know the person for whom the obituary was written, it may be pretty apparent that it is not real. In most cases, however, you’ll have to look more closely before deciding if an obituary is authentic.

Here are some things to look for:

  1. Suspicious Sources: Look for obituaries published in legitimate sources, such as established newspapers or funeral home websites. Be wary of unfamiliar websites with generic names or those with a history of publishing questionable content.
  2. Social Media Posts: While social media is a common place to share news of a death, obituaries are typically more detailed and published by a trusted source. Avoid relying solely on a social media post, especially if it seems sensational or lacks specifics.
  3. Inconsistent Details: Consider dates, locations, and names closely. Inconsistencies or vague details can be a sign of a fake obituary.
  4. Missing Information: Legitimate obituaries typically include basic details about the deceased’s life, such as place of birth, education, and family members. A lack of such information might indicate a fake obituary.
  5. Uncharacteristic or Peculiar Tone: Does the obituary’s tone seem out of place? It could be false if it’s overly negative, sensational, or filled with irrelevant details. A genuine obituary should be respectful and offer a factual overview of the deceased’s life.
  6. Unverified Fundraising: Beware of obituaries linked to fundraising campaigns, especially those on unfamiliar platforms. Always verify the legitimacy of the fundraiser with the family or a trusted source before donating.
  7. Unfamiliar Contact Information: Avoid reaching out if the obituary provides suspicious contact information.

If you’re unsure about an obituary, try to find information about the deceased from other sources, such as news articles or social media posts from verified accounts of friends and family. Don’t hesitate to contact the funeral home listed in the obituary or a trusted family member to confirm the information.

>>Our funeral planner is the perfect place to store information that can be used to create an accurate obituary. Learn More.

>>Learn about Writing An Obituary.

How Much Will Your Funeral Cost? Try Our QuickPlan to Find Out.