Gates Rumor Sparks Panic in South Korea

False reports of Bill Gates' death swept through South Korea's mainstream media Friday, hammering technology stocks and jangling nerves in the economic community.

A leftover April Fools prank concerning Microsoft Corp.s Bill Gates swept through South Koreas mainstream media Friday, hammering technology stocks and jangling nerves in the economic community.

Seouls Munhwa Broadcasting Company broke into regular programming Friday morning to report that Gates had been shot and killed during a charity event. MBC quoted U.S. cable news channel CNN in the report, according to several viewers who saw the initial report. Within minutes, two of South Koreas other major networks, Seoul Broadcasting System and news channel YTN, interrupted programming to carry the report of Gates death.

The news sparked a massive sell-off of technology shares, according to The Korea Times. Stock traders and software industry representatives jammed local phone networks as the benchmark Korea Stock Price Index fell by 8.5 percent in the minutes after the broadcasts, the paper reported.

MBC newscasters announced about 15 minutes after their first report that the news about Gates was false. According to the MBC retraction, the hoax was based on an April Fools joke distributed in the form of a mock CNN Web page. SBS and YTN issued similar retractions and apologies in the wake of the discovery, The Korea Times reported. The undated CNN story was very detailed including the time and place of the shooting, the number of shots fired, the hospital that treated Gates and even an identified suspect.

Microsoft officials in Seoul issued a statement saying false reports of Gates death have become increasingly common and have been used as April Fools jokes in the past. "Theres been years of such news flashes around this time. Now we are indifferent to it," the Microsoft statement said.

The Korean markets did recover most of their gains, with the borader index finishing the day slightly higher, though the technology sector remained down slightly at the close.

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