Johnny Depp is alive and well but not in hyperspace, where scammers have been using bogus alerts of his supposed death in a car crash to temporarily but usefully boost the search ratings of malicious sites.

There are so many such hoaxes now it barely seems worth mentioning them at all, some based around real events, many creating their own. The list of celebs that have died in hyperspace (some many times over) lengthens.

The Depp hoax is a microcosm of how Internet-born information and the way it sustains reality has become wrinkled. The fact is this kind of ‘alert’ works. Johnny Depp RIP trended on twitter and was for a time one of Google’s hot buttons. It’s a perfect example of how to exploit the web.

The obvious rationale is to feed the unsuspecting malware of one sort or another, but it’s hard to know whether the Trojans that have appeared on ‘crash’ websites are cause or effect.

As likely is that spammers engineer search trends to improve the reach of their sites, and embedding ‘johnny depp’ is good for search engine optimisation. In the way it manipulates what counts as information it is no different to any marketing that generates visibility.

To some extent, search engines, and the increasing hold they have over reality, lie at the heart of this. Twitter is even worse because it works like a sort of self-selecting search window with celebrity the main attraction.  'Depp' is the message and they are the willing medium.

Remember the Internet hoax that Microsoft planned to buy the Catholic Church? Nearly 15 years ago people believed it and Microsoft’s phones rang off the hook with angry church goers. If the TV age fulfilled Warhol’s dictum that fame could last as long as 15 minutes, this was something different, ‘true for 15 minutes’.

But true for 15 minutes is more than most important truths are ever granted and the scammers know it.