Explaining 'The Bachelorette' death hoax — and what Josh Seiter said when he was accused of being the one behind it

On Monday, a message on the 36-year-old's official Instagram account said he had died.

Josh Seiter, a former contestant on
Josh Seiter, a former contestant on The Bachelorette, has taken control of his Instagram account back from hackers. (Josh Seiter/Instagram)

Former Bachelorette contestant Josh Seiter has denied an accusation that he was behind his own death hoax this week.

Seiter, who appeared on Kaitlyn Bristowe's 2015 season of the reality show and was eliminated in the first week, was widely reported to have died Monday after a statement attributed to his family was posted to his verified page. But shockingly, Seiter resurfaced on Tuesday, claiming that a hacker had announced the sad fake news.

Just after that, Monica Beverly Hillz, familiar to TV audiences as a competitor on RuPaul's Drag Race, shared her own statement calling him out.

Monica Beverly Hillz promotes Season 8 of
Monica Beverly Hillz promotes Season 8 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars on May 4 in New York City. (Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)

"I'm happy to hear he's alive, but I'm so angry at the situation," Monica wrote. "It's infuriating that so many people who care about Josh have been deeply effected by this."

She went on to say that "everyone deserves grace," but she couldn't help thinking about that fact that Seiter "was able to pull this stunt as a cisgender white man" when "so many of my sisters and trans women of color have been brutally murdered this year and the same love and support isn't shown to them."

None of this sat well with Seiter, who flatly denied being behind the hoax in an interview with Extra.

"This person that is being very vocal, I hung out with them three times over a one-and-a-half-week period and now they're coming out… and a lot of press is saying she's my ex, she's not my ex, I barely know her," Seiter said. "So I think attention attracts attention… and it is attracting the wrong kind of people. I understand there are going to be negative things about me, but to the people with legitimate concerns and legitimate detractors of mine who think or allege that I was behind it, all I can say is the truth, which is that I wasn't. If they want to choose to believe, that is up to them, but I can't control other people and I don't live my life trying to force people to believe me or like me or love me, so all I can do is just speak the truth. But if they don't believe me, it does not bother me."

A look at what's happened:

How did so many people end up believing Seiter had died anyway?

The announcement of 36-year-old Seiter's "unexpected passing" came from a solid source: his verified Instagram account. A statement that was attributed to his family referred to him as an "incredibly bright light in an increasingly dim world."

"Although our heartache at Joshua's passing pains us beyond measure, we find comfort in knowing that he is finally at peace. We hope and pray that his spirit can continue to live on in the pictures and words on this page, which we will leave up for the time being," the statement read.

Seiter, who listed his occupation on the show as law student/exotic dancer, has been open about his mental health struggles, including his dedication to and belief in therapy. And the post included the number to a suicide crisis hotline.

Even Shawn Booth, the eventual last man standing on Seiter's season, appeared to believe his former castmate had died. According to Extra, someone from the show was speaking to Booth when news broke that Seiter was actually alive.

"That's great news, obviously," Booth said. "Wow, that's insane, that's absolutely crazy."

He added that it was "a relief for everybody."

How did we learn Seiter was actually still alive?

One day after the heartbreaking post on his Insta, Seiter resurfaced with this message: "Hey guys, as you can see, I am alive and well.' My account was hacked. For the last 24 hours, I've been trying desperately to get into it. Somebody was playing a cruel joke and mocking my mental illness and the struggles I've gone through with depression and suicide attempts. I am sorry for all the pain they caused when they made that post. I just got back into my account."

He told Extra that he first noticed something was wrong late Monday.

"Everything kind of blurs together now looking back, but it was sometime shortly after it occurred I was having trouble logging into my account which was very atypical and unusual, and then at the same time my phone just kept going off with phone calls and texts so I kind of knew something was going on," Seiter said. "And so it was at that moment that I made it a priority to get back into my account, and that was what I dedicated the next 18 hours doing."

He described the ordeal, in which he believes he was being targeted, as a nightmare.

"It felt like a dream, kind of, like a nightmare, like you're seeing images and articles coming out from… everywhere… saying that I'm dead and then at the same time, an Instagram page that I've spent six years trying to build and consistently using to talk about mental health I can't get into, and I see it has been hacked with this post," he said. "It was just a horrible feeling and mixed with the fact that I already deal with anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, it was a lot. It was kind of sensory overload, so I'm grateful that it is over."

Seiter told the outlet that it never occurred to him to go to the police.

"That never even entered the landscape of my mind. In my head, it is just, 'I'm Josh from the Midwest, I can't log into my darn Instagram, this is super annoying, and I need to figure this out,' so going to the police didn't occur to me. I'm glad I didn't… I don't think their top priority at the police station is helping Josh get into his Instagram account, so I'm grateful we were able to do it."

He also said he didn't file a report with Instagram, because he's back in his account.

"I don't know the ins and outs of it," he said of how he was able to get back in. "I have a couple people who are pretty technically savvy helping me… I changed my password, but I don't know why I was locked out or what happened."

He said that he doesn't know who would have hacked him.

"I have a lot of people that dislike me, I get a lot of hateful messages… I don't know how many thousands upon thousands of people from Instagram that could have been behind this," he said. "I don't know if it was someone in my family, I don't know if it is an acquaintance, I don't know if it is an ex. You mentioned someone who has met me three times who has now done 50 interviews about me… There are some crazy people out there so, honestly, I have no clue who could have done it. It could have been anyone who dislikes me and anyone who wanted to play a cruel joke."

Why are there so many celebrity death hoaxes?

Speaking of cruel jokes, celebrity death hoaxes aren't new to any of us; they've been around for decades, especially since the advent of the internet. Eddie Murphy, Celine Dion, Jim Carrey, Missy Elliott, Reba McEntire and so many other familiar names have dealt with them too. Earlier this month, child rapper Lil Tay and her older brother were reported to have died via an announcement on her verified Instagram page, only for Tay to resurface a day later and explain that the account had been hacked.

A fake death story often hinges on a specific event, such as a falling off a cliff or crashing a car, and spreads — quickly — at least in part because people want to "perform" their grief on social media, according to fact-checking website Snopes.

In Seiter's case, he promised in that return to his account that he would keep followers updated on what he learned about what had happened.

"I am going to do all I can with my team to try to identify who is behind this but, again, I apologize for the confusion," he said Tuesday.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 911, or call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Aug. 29, 2023, and has been updated with new information.