FISHERS, Ind. - Experts are warning parents of how quickly information can spread online after a Fishers boy falls victim to a death hoax.
Internet rumors about the purported deaths of celebrities and sports stars are nothing new, but a recent case in Fishers has brought the issue home to central Indiana.
Friends and classmates of Michael Sinkfield, 14, thought he was dead following a hoax text message apparently sent by whoever had the teen's missing cellphone.
Word of Sinkfield's death spread over social media after a text message Sunday night from someone pretending to be his father said he had died in a car crash.
The teen told The Indianapolis Star he found out about his supposed death when some people were crying when got on the bus Monday on his way to Riverside Junior High.
John Luginbill, owner of The Heavyweights, an Indianapolis ad agency that monitors information posted on its clients' digital sites, stressed how quickly rumors can spread online.
"Literally, within minutes, millions of people can see what's been posted," he said. "It has an enormous capacity to feed and disseminate information, and information can be true and positive and helpful, and it can be exceptionally damaging."
Kimble Richardson, a social worker with St. Vincent Health, said death hoaxes may start out as a joke, but can have serious real-world consequences.
"(A person who does that) wants attention, and perhaps a little bit of power," he said. "It's clearly the wrong way and it's extremely hurtful and inappropriate."
Richardson stressed that those who start such rumors can hide behind their messages, unless they're caught in the act.
"The person has to be confronted and hopefully held responsible and some consequence put into place," he said.
Sinkfield's mother said the school principal called expressing condolences but later apologized for the mix-up.