The death of Michael Jackson on Thursday did more than rock the world of pop culture — it also shook the Internet.
Various online services hit by a massive surge of queries regarding Jackson’s condition Thursday evening collapsed under the weight of the public call for updates and information on the pop star. Internet-search giant Google confirmed Friday (June 26) that the spike in Jackson-related traffic initially prompted concern that the service was being hacked, causing Google News to default to an error page for any searches involving Jackson for more than 30 minutes. The millions of users seeking information about Jackson’s status during that period received a page stating: “Your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application.”
“It’s true that between approximately 2:40 p.m. Pacific and 3:15 p.m. Pacific, some Google News users experienced difficulty accessing search results for queries related to Michael Jackson and saw the error page,” Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker told BBC News.
And Google wasn’t the only online service to stumble under the weight of users looking for information on Jackson. Micro-blogging site Twitter also saw its servers crash due to a surge of posts that, according to various Web services tracking social-media activity, equated to more than 100,000 messages per hour. While services were restored a short time later, the evening’s events created yet another high-water mark for Twitter capacity.
Ethan Zuckerman, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, posted a message on his own Twitter feed during the height of activity claiming that Jackson-related topics were generating more discussion on the site than the Iran protests or swine flu had ever created.
“My Twitter search script sees roughly 15% of all posts on Twitter mentioning Michael Jackson,” wrote Zuckerman. “Never saw Iran or swine flu reach over 5%.”
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told The New York Times that the service saw “more than double the normal tweets per second the moment the news broke — the biggest increase since the U.S. presidential election.”
Social-networking sites like MySpace and Facebook not only reported significant increases in traffic, but users of both services reported noticeable lag time after the initial reports of Jackson’s hospitalization. Facebook news site All Facebook reported a sudden increase in membership for the Michael Jackson fan page that rose to nearly 20 new fans per second in the period following Jackson’s death.
Online sales of Jackson’s music experienced a similar surge, with the icon’s album’s jumping into the top slots for both Amazon.com and iTunes in the wake of his death. Jackson’s music managed to fill every slot in Amazon’s Top 15 best-seller list and occupy half of iTunes’ Top 20 downloaded albums and singles.
Even Wikipedia had its share of troubles handling the Jackson drama. Contributors warring over official confirmation of Jackson’s condition and engaging in back-and-forth edits of the star’s entry eventually forced administrators to lock down all information related to Jackson until there was agreement among mainstream media outlets.
MTV will be paying tribute to MJ throughout the weekend with music videos, exclusive performances and calls and tweets from celebrity admirers and friends. For everything we’ve got on the life, career and passing of the legendary entertainer, visit “Michael Jackson Remembered.”
Share your Michael Jackson memories by uploading video and comments to Your.MTV.com or joining the discussion below.