On September 20 2019, a Facebook page shared the following screenshot of a purported headline: “Man suffers heart attack, dies at work, coworkers gather for group selﬁe thinking he’d fallen asleep”:
In an appended status update, the page just commented “BRUH,” and no links to any related article were included. A search for the elusive headline turned up an iFunny.co post published on the same day as the Facebook status above.
If the original headline (“Man suffers heart attack, dies at work, coworkers gather for group selﬁe thinking he’d fallen asleep”) ever existed, it didn’t return any search results and was likely quite old.
But the attached image was a different story. On February 2 2016, it was shared to Reddit’s photoshopping subreddit r/PSBattles, with a title encouraging users to creatively edit “this man sleeping in the office in front of his co-workers”:
A Montreal intern woke up to a burst of laughter on his second day at a new job Tuesday after his co-workers had gathered around to take a now viral photo of him – with his mouth wide open, asleep at his desk.
Eduard Paraschivescu has been undergoing training at a company called Gsoft that afternoon. He has a slight anemia, so when he felt tired, he leaned back in his chair and about 20 minutes later he realized he’d dozed off.
One of the reasons he knew this was because his co-workers were around him when he woke up, laughing, and taking pictures and videos.
He also found a message saying he should bring in doughnuts in the next day. He said he did, and that he hasn’t lost his job.
But it was Paraschivescu himself who took the extra step of posting a photo on Reddit, where it was picked up by the PhotoshopBattles subreddit.
A “Man suffers heart attack, dies at work, coworkers gather for group selﬁe thinking he’d fallen asleep” headline screenshot offers an object lesson in a common trajectory for “fake news” items and how they come to be. At some point in time, someone paired the viral “sleeping intern” photograph from 2016 with an outlandish and untrue headline reflecting an old urban legend about an office worker who had once remained dead and unnoticed at their desk for five days.
In 2000 and 2001, that similar (and also false) claim circulated, reflective of fears that we are quite literally only “warm bodies” to employers — so much so that desk deaths could conceivably have no effect on whether our workplaces carry on without us. Its previous virality showed that the image itself is eye-catching and shareable, more so when paired with a compelling headline. However, a quick image search showed that the original photograph moved from one subreddit to another before becoming a viral hit on its own in 2016.