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Is Fidel Castro dead? Anatomy of a trending Twitter meme

Fidel Castro made a surprise appearance at the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba, held April 19, 2011.
Fidel Castro made a surprise appearance at the 6th Communist Party Congress in Havana, Cuba, held April 19, 2011.
Javier Galeano/AP

Is Cuban leader Fidel Castro dead?

That rumor dominated a large part of the Twitterverse on Wednesday.

If true, Castro's death would be one of the biggest stories of the year, and perhaps the biggest ever for older Cuban Americans who have been waiting decades for the day to arrive.

But even if the longtime Cuban dictator isn't dead, there's still a story: How Twitter — especially Spanish-language Twitter — gives life to rumors of death.

Rumors have been spreading all afternoon about Castro's death, mainly via Twitter — perhaps spurred by a Miami blogger's post in Spanish that spoke of Castro's supposed dementia and rapidly failing health. 

Wednesday's rumor-mongering was only the latest incarnation of the Castro-is-dead meme. Long before Twitter, rumblings about Castro's demise have surfaced so often that many of those tweeting Wednesday about the 86-year-old longtime Cuban leader would likely have a hard time believing it if it were true. 

While we wait to learn more about Castro, let's do a little social media deconstruction.

First, there was an early blog post. On, blogger Alberto Muller wrote on Tuesday:

De acuerdo a nuestras fuentes cercanas a su familia, desde hace meses la demencia de Fidel Castro viene agravándose paulatinamente, hasta el punto que ya no se reúne con mandatarios ni personajes de la cultura y en su propia residencia tampoco se sienta a cenar con sus hijos.

A todo este cuadro de demencia aguda, se une en los últimos días la debilidad de sus signos vitales, que le impiden caminar, conversar y respirar por sus propios medios.

Very loosely translated, Muller wrote that sources close to the family claim Castro has dementia that's advanced gradually, to the point that he no longer meets with officials or others and no longer dines with his family at home. In recent days, Muller wrote, his vital signs have become weak and this has impeded his ability to walk, talk or breathe on his own. All of this is, of course, unconfirmed.

The rumor gained momentum with subsequent blog posts, like one posted today in Havana Times entitled "Where is Cuba's Fidel Castro?" From that post:

As the mentor of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, it was expected that the first congratulations to him for winning a new term in office on Sunday would have come from Fidel.

Instead, Raul Castro congratulated Chavez and not a word from his older brother. Such silence is beginning to provoke speculation on Fidel’s health. 

The speculation escalated. The tweets and posts reporting Castro as dead have ranged from rumors of brain death to Castro's being no longer among the living to no, wait, he's not dead at all:

Not long ago, reaction to rumors of Castro's death was limited to Miami, New Jersey and other Cuban American enclaves. No more. An avalanche of skepticism and gallows humor quickly followed the rumors on Twitter, with multiple references to the cartoon character Kenny from TV's "South Park."

The Cubanews blog compiled several tweets in Spanish, with Castro as a trending topic. Here are a few other choice tweets, in Spanish and English:

Translated: "Fidel Castro is like Kenny from South Park, they always kill him."

Translated: "Fidel Castro has died again? It's been three hundred times."

And this nugget from the Associated Press's Terry Spencer in Florida:

Perhaps no one will. The status of Castro's health is still unconfirmed. 

Do you have favorite tweets on this trending topic? Share them in the comments.