News of Michael Jackson's death overloads Internet sites and sparks hoaxes
Friday, June 26, 2009
The news of the death of Michael Jackson yesterday caused problems for web sites and caused hoax reports of other celebrity deaths to be posted. Twitter, where several celebrities immediately posted their comments on the news, saw its update frequency double as soon as the news broke. Facebook's update frequency tripled. Temporary server outages were reported for Twitter, TMZ.com (the site that originally broke the story), and the web site of the Los Angeles Times.
On Wikinews, the report of Jackson's death received 1,150 page hits in its first hour of publication, almost 9 times as much as the number of page hits received by Wikinews' second most popular story that hour. At its peak, the Wikinews story received 4,466 page hits in one hour. On Wikipedia, an edit war ensued when users repeatedly deleted references while reports of his death remained unverified. Once a credible source, the Los Angeles Times, verified the story, Wikipedia published the news.
Hoax stories sparked by news of Jackson's death included false reports of the deaths of Jeff Goldblum and Harrison Ford. These stories were rapidly revealed to be hoaxes, but some news outlets carried the stories by mistake. The entertainment report on Nine Network's Today show, for example, mistakenly carried the story of Goldblum's death. Goldblum was in fact alive and well in Los Angeles, California, according to an official statement issued by his publicist.
The hoaxes originated on a web site that generates superficially genuine but false news reports from pre-set formulae, into which the celebrity name of one's choice can be entered. One of the options available is for the report to state that the celebrity "dies in New Zealand" at Kauri Cliffs near Matauri Bay. Because of this, many people attempted to contact New Zealand police, forcing Inspector Kerry Watson of the NZ police to issue the following statement:
- "Police at Kerikeri are receiving phone calls regarding a person falling from a cliff at Kauri Cliff. There is no such incident and police have no information to provide."
This is not the first time that this particular hoax has circulated. The exact same story, with the same cliffs, circulated about Tom Hanks in 2006 and about Tom Cruise in 2008. Cruise's publicist, Jeff Raymond, stated at the time that the story was "erroneous and unreliable Internet garbage".
- "Michael Jackson Breaks Twitter" — , June 26, 2009
- Kris Green. "Jackson sparks celeb death hoaxes" — , June 26, 2009
- MelancholieBot. "Popular Articles (Revision as of 2009-06-25T23:05:23)" — , June 26, 2009
- MelancholieBot. "Popular Articles (Revision as of 2009-06-26T02:06:46)" — , June 26, 2009
- "Jackson’s death melts servers, causes NitTwits hoax deaths" — , June 26, 2009
- Scott Duke Harris. "Michael Jackson's death swamps Facebook, Twitter, other Internet sites" — , June 26, 2009
- Andrew Ramadge. "Web traffic surge after Michael Jackson's death" — , June 26, 2009
- Alejandro Martinez-Cabrera. "Michael Jackson's death causes commotion on the web" — June 26, 2009
- "Michael Jackson is dead: News of tragic death brings Google and Wikipedia to a halt" — , June 26, 2009
- Daniel Hurst. "Website hoax: Jeff Goldblum not dead" — June 26, 2009
- Michael Sheridan. "Jeff Goldblum, Harrison Ford dead? Fake news stories make dire claims" — , June 26, 2009
- "Goldblum NZ death hoax latest in a trail" — , June 26, 2009
- "Tom Cruise staff blast claim he fell to death off cliff" — , October 17, 2008
- "Michael Jackson's death sparks Wikipedia edit war" — , June 26, 2009
- Brion Vibber. "Current events and traffic spikes" — June 26, 2009 — Diary entry by the Chief Technical Officer of the Wikimedia Foundation describing in detail the effects on the Wikimedia Foundation's web servers, which host both Wikipedia and Wikinews, of the news. (link currently broken)