michael jackson
C.F. Tham/AP
Michael Jackson performing at a concert at National Stadium, Singapore in 1993.

Michael Jackson’s Death Takes the Web by Storm

June 26, 2009 02:30 PM
by Liz Colville
Web sites were crippled by traffic relating to Michael Jackson’s death. Fans used Twitter and other sites to organize vigils and share tributes, articles, music and videos.

Jackson’s Death Dominates Twitter Trends

The death of pop legend Michael Jackson on June 25 played out on the Internet, where blogs and tweets were the first media to declare he had died., a celebrity blog owned by AOL, was the first to report the news, citing word from law enforcement officials in Los Angeles.

TMZ’s entry on the death came more than an hour before the Los Angeles Times made its announcement, followed by CBS, CNN and others. As is tradition, news sources including the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, CBS and CNN waited for confirmation from law enforcement officials and each other before declaring the news. Internet traffic was so great and updates so frequent that several news sites failed to load.

The mood on Twitter quickly changed from skeptical, with users asking each other for confirmation beyond TMZ, to commemorative—even before the mainstream media made its announcements. Users shared music videos, experiences and thoughts, and then used social networks to organize commemorative events.

As New York Times reporter Jenna Wortham wrote via The Times’ ArtsBeat blog, “Impromptu get-togethers” were organized across the country. In New York, vigils were “organized via Twitter to gather fans in Manhattan to remember the pop culture phenomenon,” according to ArtsBeat.

But Twitter was also overloaded by the news. Ian Paul of PC World’s blog, Today @ PC World, wrote that Twitter cofounder Biz Stone said the number of tweets per second doubled with the news. Paul also noted that “the voracious appetite for Twitter updates about recent problems in Iran has not seriously impacted Twitter. After days of tweets about election rigging and street violence there was no noticeable impact on Twitter's service, but Jackson dies and the Twitosphere comes crashing down under the weight of the singer's popularity.”

Paul also questioned whether TMZ actually had “the scoop” on Jackson’s death, or whether it was depending on unconfirmed information. The article also includes information on how the news impacted sites including the Los Angeles Times and Wikipedia.

The Guardian posted an interesting video from Twitscoop, a site that tracks buzz terms, or trends, being discussed on Twitter. The video illustrates how the discussion quickly became dominated by news about Jackson.

Using font size to show the popularity of a topic, the words “Michael,” “Jackson,” “cardiac” and “arrest” quickly grew as all other words shrank. The Guardian also includes a graph from the music-sharing site showing how plays of Michael Jackson’s songs spiked Thursday evening.

Reactions: Heads of state, musicians, celebrities and fans share their thoughts

In effect, Twitter was simply a gauge of the great impact Michael Jackson had on people around the world. Billboard gathered statements from musicians, music executives and organizations such as MTV, showing how many considered Jackson not only a cornerstone of the music world, but a mentor who was in a league of his own. Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, MC Hammer and dozens of others spoke out via statements and Twitter on the influence Jackson had on their music.

Film directors, politicians and former heads of state also came out with tributes to the star, The New York Times reported. Directors Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos, are among the notable figures quoted by The Times.

Selection of Online Tributes to Jackson

Rolling Stone has gathered its Michael Jackson cover stories and album reviews dating back to 1970.

The New York Times has created an interactive timeline, “A Life in Pop,” which includes links to numerous Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson music videos and biographical details.

Mark Morford wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Michael Jackson vs. the news” that “the raw data of Michael Jackson pales in comparison to the truly significant numbers, like how many countless millions of people worldwide have danced and sung along and found pleasure in an MJ tune in their lives, can recite lyrics and mimic the dance moves and tell you exactly where they were when they first witnessed the moonwalk, the glove, ‘Billie Jean,’ the ‘Thriller’ video.”

Michael Jackson's lawyer, Bob Sanger, gave an exclusive interview to LA Weekly in which he warmly recalls his former client and describes Jackson's reading habits and other interesting facts.

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