After news of George Michael's death shocked the world on Christmas Day, word that pop princess Britney Spears had died in an accident broke out on Twitter on Dec. 26, sending the social media sphere buzzing.
"Britney Spears is dead by accident! We will tell you more soon #RIPBritney," the fake news shocked netizens.
The tweet was posted on the official account of Sony Music Entertainment, initially lending gravitas to what would later be proven as a hoax.
"There have been a few Internet clowns over the years who have made similar claims about her death, but never from the official Sony Music Twitter account," Adam Leber, the singer's manager told CNN.
But as legions of her fans expressed shock and grief, Spears herself seems to have taken the death hoax lightly, even tweeting (literally) tongue-in-cheek selfies to put the rumors to rest.
With this week's security breach, Spears and fellow music artist Bob Dylan are only the latest among a growing number of celebrities being targeted by hackers who call themselves OurMine.
The group claims responsibility for the spate of hacking attacks — waged throughout the year — against some of the biggest personalities and establishments in the technology and entertainment industries. The list includes no less than Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, proving how even captains of the tech industry can fall prey to hacking.
OurMine has long used the attacks as a way to catch people's attention and promote the group's online security business.
"We did it because there are other hackers that can hack them and change everything," the group said in June. The method is often deemed by other security experts as a gray-hat tactic: the hackers inflict damage then offer to help mend it.
But what makes the hacking attack on Spears the most gutwrenching?
How The Britney Spears Death Hoax Sent Shock Waves
The effectiveness of the attack isn't simply about Spears' celebrity status — someone like Zuckerberg is an equally important cultural figure.
The scarier part of this equation is that OurMine played on our collective belief in the so-called "curse of 2016": political instability, the spread of hate speech, economic uncertainty, and even this year's string of high-profile deaths.
A simple hack to spread a hoax is only the beginning of a bad joke.
When netizens are conditioned to see a bleak picture of the world for so long, it becomes easier for them to gravitate to hoaxes packaged as emotionally charged news — not the least of which is news about death.
Throw into the mix the proliferation of fake news and you get a deadly combination of half-truths becoming netizens' steady diet of information. And internet clowns, hackers, hoaxers, and trolls are only so eager to feed these to the public.