In life, Michael Jackson once ruled the pop charts. With his death, he dominated the internet.
As reports of Jackson’s death on Thursday spread, celebrity gossip websites crashed, news sites slowed to a crawl and traffic on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook spiked.
Few sites were spared. Jackson’s sudden, unexpected death led so many people to search Google for information that the search engine’s software believed it was under attack, sending searchers a message saying “your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application.”
Even online encyclopedia Wikipedia had problems of its own, as an editing war broke out on Jackson’s biography over whether the musician had actually passed away.
Shortly after 5:15 p.m. ET, gossip website TMZ.com was the first outlet to report that Jackson had been rushed to a hospital after suffering an apparent cardiac arrest. TMZ’s website temporarily shut down when the volume of traffic overwhelmed it.
As viewers rushed to mainstream news sites for more information, their websites all started to experience marked slowdowns in performance, according to Keynote Systems, an internet measurement consultancy.
News sites slow to crawl
“Beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET, the average speed for downloading news sites doubled from less than four seconds to almost nine seconds,” said Shawn White, Keynote’s director of external operations. “During the same period, the average availability of sites on the index dropped from almost 100 per cent to 86 per cent. The index returned to normal by 9:15 p.m. ET.”
From 6 until 8 p.m. ET, ABC, CBS, the Los Angeles Times and AOL (which owns TMZ) were among the sites that were mostly unavailable, Keynote said in a release. (Keynote had earlier reported CNN Money was also affected, but has since issued a retraction.)
Internet tracking firm Akamai reported that North America’s most popular news sites saw traffic spike 20 per cent above average during the height of the story just after 6 p.m., with over four million visitors per minute, about half the traffic of last Nov. 4, the day of Barack Obama’s victory in the U.S. presidential election.
As people online tried to get the latest news, social networks saw a spike in traffic, much of it Michael Jackson-related. Users flooded Facebook, and a group on the social networking site called Michael Jackson RIP was created Thursday night and has now attracted nearly 65,000 members.
Biz Stone, co-founder of the online social messaging service Twitter, told the Los Angeles Times that the frequency of Twitter posts, or Tweets, doubled after the first reports of Jackson’s death surfaced.
Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, was tracking Jackson-related content on Twitter and posted that Jackson had far surpassed the Iran election and swine flu as a popular topic.
“My Twitter search script sees roughly 15 per cent of all posts on Twitter mentioning Michael Jackson,” he reported on Twitter on Thursday. “Never saw Iran or swine flu reach over five per cent.”
Those numbers have since dropped to about three per cent of all Twitter traffic as of Friday, he said in a later post.