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I Read It on the Web
Alex Giardino learns what many have. When it comes to news on the Internet, verify, then verify again.

By Alex Giardino

Gustavo Cerati, a rock legend in Latin America, died recently. According to various Internet sources he also died once in July and four other times since he fell into a coma in May 2010. Cerati has also awoken twice. Or so I've read, sometimes on seemingly reliable sites. I have followed this stream of rumors with skepticism, until last week, when, for the first time, I fell hard for a hoax.

A Facebook friend posted a Spanish-language news source and wrote a moving tribute. I clicked on the news link. I shared it. Several friends did likewise. We were all very sad. Cerati had accompanied us through many love affairs, dinner parties and road trips. I spent the day listening to his music, retracing those memories. I even danced in the kitchen with my son. That night, I learned we'd been duped by a fake news site. I was shocked, angry, a little embarrassed.

That same day the LA Times reported that China would now prosecute those found spreading rumors on the Internet, with minimum three-year sentences. I don't agree with this policy on free speech grounds, but I have now felt firsthand the burn of a cruel rumor. I appreciate how the Cerati family responded to this most recent ugly story. They wrote: "We ask that Gustavo's fans only give credence to our voice. We ask that you and the media not echo any message that does not have our backing."

I deleted my Facebook posting. I will only seek news about Cerati's condition through his official website. And despite feeling burned, I'm grateful for his family's cogent reminder to always verify, then verify again, alleged news I read online.

With a Perspective, I'm Alex Giardino.

Alex Giardino is a writer, translator and community college instructor.

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