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Stephen Logan

News of Michael Jackson’s Death Causes Online Meltdown

26th Jun 2009 Social Media 2 minutes to read

Worldwide news stories don’t come much bigger than the death of an icon. The sad news of Michael Jackson’s passing yesterday encouraged a hoarding flotilla of mourning fans and curious web users online to find out the latest reports.

Unprecedented volumes of traffic crippled websites reporting his death, including TMZ and the LA Times websites. Social media, as always, was first on the scene when it came to providing 140 character eulogies and passing respects on. Demand has been and continues to be extremely high, with Tweets and Facebook groups memorialising the singer and his legacy.

As with all major stories, the fragility of the Internet and its power to provide the breaking news stories first was further highlighted yesterday. TMZ were first to break the news of Jackson’s cardiac arrest and subsequent death; ultimately causing so many people to visit the site that it slowed to a crawl and ultimately ceased working for a time.

Clearly this story, as with the Iranian election that still continues to grip social media forums, have caused unprecedented demand and reaction from users. As Web Pro News report, the amount of Tweets that were circulating just after the announcement reached over 1,200 in under two minutes. This tidal wave of activity caused 9 out of the 10 trending topics to include some reference to the news of Michael Jackson’s death. Even The Daily Mail were quick to analyse the Internet activity, highlighting the huge upsurge in Jackson related trending – particularly on Twitter – and how the timeline of the story emerged through various online outlets.

Cynicism is abound though when it comes to determining the intentions of those Tweeting on the top trends, particularly following Habitat’s social media faux pas earlier in the week. Misguidedly, the Habitat messages used hash tags (words denoting a trending topic) relating to the Iranian crisis in adverts for their products. This was quickly pounced upon by various web users and critiqued endlessly by social media commentators.

Whilst Twitter and Facebook have their positive purposes, as highlighted by the proliferation of news updates and messages of condolence triggered by the deaths of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson yesterday; there is this dark underbelly of misuse. It has the power to entertain, to inform and to allow communications between experts, celebrities and the general public, but there is much more to it than this.

Another good example of the misuse of social media power came yesterday when people erroneously started a trend suggesting that Hollywood actor Jeff Goldblum had also died. Last month, in a post entitled ‘Is Real-Time Search Really the Future for Google?’, we mentioned the possibility of hoaxes distorting the truth and the damage that can cause. Once again, with this fictitiousstory concerning Goldblum, it is clear that the huge popularity and unmediated power of social media can also be destructive.

So it has been both a good and bad week for the titans of social media. Credibility has been lost and restored again, whilst popularity has rarely wavered. It has also strengthened its position as the quickest, if not always the most reliable, source of breaking news; something that will continue to aggravate standard media outlets no doubt.

Despite the Internet’s meltdown in the face of Michael Jackson related searches, our growing dependency on it has rarely been more evident.

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