RIP Michael Jackson, you thrilled us

I was up late in my office last night when the first comments on Twitter about the death of entertainer Michael Jackson started appearing.

It wasn’t long before those tweets became a torrent as more and more people heard the news and were asking questions, seeking confirmation.

Before that confirmation came (the LA Times was first with that), I counted around 5,000 tweets a minute mentioning the key phrase ‘Michael Jackson.’ (or, as was common in many tweets I saw, the misspelled ‘Micahel Jackson’).

At one point, Twitter Search showed over 25,000 new tweets in a minute. I’m still not convinced that wasn’t an error of some kind (I wish I’d taken a screenshot).

But it was clear that the only news anyone wanted to talk about was Michael Jackson.

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According to Akamai Technologies, who measure internet traffic, users on the internet worldwide peaked yesterday at over 4.2 million per minute at about 7pm EDT (midnight UK time).

The figure for North America alone – which has the world’s biggest slice of internet traffic – was over 3.5 million.

Last night’s tragic news garnered huge worldwide attention, I guess partly because of how unexpected it was. Another well-known celebrity, the actress Farrah Fawcett, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer, but without attracting anywhere close to comparable attention partly, I guess, because it wasn’t unexpected.

Two fascinating aspects of last night’s online clamour for news and information that unfolded right in front of your eyes was how incredibly fast-moving events were and the yawning time gap between what the mainstream media was reporting and what you could see on your computer or mobile screen that was being said (reported) on Twitter in enormous volumes of commentary.

Rumour and speculation were the order of the evening on Twitter whereas the mainstream media was much more cautious, focusing more on the facts that they could verify at the time of their reporting.

When specific comment about Jackson’s death first broke on TMZ.com, that was the source the three TV channels I was keeping an eye on – BBC News, Sky News and CNN – cited as their source for their own initial breaking-news reporting on the death.

Out there on the worldwide internet, people wanted verification from trusted sources like the mainstream media – testimony, perhaps, that TMZ.com isn’t a news source yet with unimpeachable credibility, and that Twitter is so much chatter at a time when you want the facts, and you want them fast.

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I think Jackson’s death is a tragedy, much like the tragedy his life became in recent years. Such a talent especially in the 80s. Who hasn’t heard Thriller?

That’s how I prefer to remember him and his enormous talent as a singer and entertainer, the man whose video of Thriller set the benchmark for story-telling music videos that followed (and helped make MTV the generation icon it became).

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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