The news of Michael Jackson’s passing yesterday shocked the world, but perhaps none were as stunned as Google and Twitter. Upon rumors of the pop icon’s death in Los Angeles, fans flocked to the Web for confirmation, resulting in an avalanche of searches, Tweets, and page views that crashed Google and brought Twitter to a standstill as the number of Tweets per second doubled in an instant.
The tremendous volume of queries for the term “Michael Jackson” was interpreted by Google as an automated attack, triggering a collapse of the site that lasted for about half an hour. More than one-third of the top 100 Google searches among U.S. users were reportedly M.J.-related during the height of the frenzy.
Meanwhile Twitter managed to remain online, but it might as well have crashed. According to Twitter analysis tool Twist, at one point yesterday afternoon 22.6% of messages posted to Twitter were related to the King of Pop’s passing as users barraged the site with questions and rumors, and later fond farewells. At one point, nine of the top ten topics on Twitter involved Jackson’s death. The surging volume caused the site to grind to a halt temporarily, and Twitter Search was reportedly running about twenty minutes behind real time. This is the same Twitter the U.S. State Department asked to remain functional last week so protesters in Iran would be able to communicate in the face of violent government crackdowns.
Google and Twitter weren’t the only sites experiencing the fallout of Jacko’s death. AOL-owned celeb-gossip maven TMZ.com, which broke the story of the death shortly after M.J. was rushed to the hospital, crashed under the weight of excessive traffic, sending even more people to Twitter to report that TMZ was down. The Los Angeles Times, which originally reported that Jacko was comatose but alive, also went down as hopeful fans rushed to the site seeking a ray of hope (The LA Times confirmed the singer’s death shortly afterward). On Jackson’s Wikipedia page, an editing war broke out due to the conflicting reports of his death.
The online fiasco is a fitting testament to Jackson’s legacy. His music reached every corner of the world, he gathered adoring crowds even outside of his own trials, and his name and face were as globally well-known as anyone of his era. He was beyond famous. Michael Jackson: He played the Berlin Wall. He invented Pop. He beat the rap. He crashed Google.