In late February 2023, about two weeks after U.S. Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania checked himself into Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for clinical depression, a number of social media posts erroneously claimed that he had died.
Another tweet shared an image of what appeared to be a CNN article reporting that Fetterman had died at Walter Reed surrounded by his family.
This CNN article was fake, and Fetterman was alive. According to a Feb. 27 report by The Associated Press, he remained in treatment at Walter Reed, and a spokesperson for him said he was "on a path to recovery" and expected to be out of the office for a few more weeks.
"We understand the intense interest in John's status and especially appreciate the flood of well-wishes," Fetterman's communications director said in a statement. "However, as we have said this will be a weeks-long process and while we will be sure to keep folks updated as it progresses, this is all there is to give by way of an update."
Considering that official statement from Fetterman's team, as well as the fact that the social media posts supposedly sharing news of his death were demonstrably made up from whole cloth, we rate this claim "False."
When Fetterman checked himself into Walter Reed on Feb. 15, his office said he had been experiencing depression "off and on throughout his life" but it had increased in recent weeks.
In May 2022, the Democrat suffered a stroke while campaigning for his Senate seat — a race against GOP nominee Mehmet Oz, the celebrity heart surgeon, that was key to Democrats seeking to maintain the Senate majority. He was sworn into office in January 2023.
In the aftermath of the stroke, Fetterman suffered from an auditory processing disorder that renders some people unable to speak fluidly and process meaning from spoken conversation quickly, The Associated Press reported. As a result, he used devices in meetings and conversations that helped him transcribe spoken words in real time. Post-stroke depression is common, according to experts.
The false social media posts about Fetterman were a death hoax, a phenomenon often perpetuated by internet users who exaggerate news of a public figure's physical or mental illness for clout or engagement.
As we've noted before, "The celebrity death hoax proliferates across the internet mainly because it feeds on a number of more basic instincts among users, such as "performing" their grief on social media."