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Pop and Protests Stopped the Web July 1, 2009

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Civic Media, Convergence, Journalism, Social Media, Trends, Web Video, YouTube.

The deaths of a pop legend and a faceless woman consumed and stopped the Web this week. Michael Jackson and Neda Agha-Soltan had little in common in life but their deaths in Los Angeles and Tehran once again show the emotional and political power of the nature of social media.

Both events became emblematic of the flow and character of modern many-to-many communication. The day Michael Jackson died on 25 June, many of us discovered the news on TV because all the social media networks on the Web were out of service or were too slow.


Fans of Jackson went to the Web to find instant news about the death of the pop culture legend and to seek collective commiseration in their virtual grieve. On the day of his death, interest in Jackson was so high that many Websites with the most popular Jackson pages experienced outages and slowdowns.

After the celebrity gossip site TMZ.com first reported that Michael Jackson had died the afternoon of 25 June, activity all over the Web increased to near-record levels. Twitter received 5,000 Jackson-related messages per minute during its peak – noticeably slowing its service. The Los Angeles Times Web site received more than 2.3 million page views in one hour, causing several outages there.

Accompanying comments from bloggers mostly expressed shock at the singer’s death and offered moving accounts of his influence.

In Iran, an online video becomes the galvanizing moment in Iran’s troubled election, declared by some outlets as a “Twitter revolution.” The image of “Neda” has become a symbol of the Iranian protest movement after an amateur video of her death spread rapidly through Youtube and other emerging media.

While reports about her death conflict, images of Agha-Soltan’s last moments symbolized for many, the cruelty of the Iranian government in response to the protests. The graphic video imagery galvanized people as the Iranian government began to drive protests underground, forcing coverage to recede.

A graphic video of Agha-Soltan’s death was the most viewed news video of the week on YouTube.

Yet even the iconic video was not enough to sustain the coverage. By the middle of the week, Iran started to lose steam as a story as the protests grew smaller and the story of political turmoil grew more complex than simply protests in the street.

Related reads
Deaths of Michael Jackson and “Neda” Grip the Blogosphere



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