June 26, 2009
RIP MJ - Twitter as a Newswire
News of Michael Jackson's death spread around the world in seconds starting with a short and cryptic Tweet reading, "RIP MJ". Though the burst was 134 characters short of the limit, virtually everyone who saw the post immediately understood its meaning. The enigmatic King of Pop had passed prematurely and technologically tuned in members of Generation X fell into a tremendous emotional funk. The post-boomer version of Elvis was dead. The outpouring of posts was too much for Twitters servers which gave in several times throughout the afternoon. The first message popped up around 4:50PM eastern, just after the celebrity gossip site TMZ published a report stating Jackson had been transported to the UCLA hospital after suffering a heart attack. While TMZ was the first media outlet to report Jackson's death, it took over an hour for other mainstream news organizations to verify and report the story. In that lost hour, confusion and chaos reigned on Twitter, a messaging application that has come to serve as the newswire of the technorati. Conflicting reports suggested Jackson was still alive. Since mainstream news organizations such as CNN or the BBC had not updated their websites, Jackson's fans held out hope the singer would be saved and reports proved wrong. When, around 5:30PM eastern, a Twitter report stating Jackson's sister Latoya had been seen running through the hospital crying, the Twitterverse appeared to accept his death and moved into a mode of mourning. According to another report on TMZ, Jackson's former agent, Michael Levine released a statement saying Jackson's death was a decade in the making.
"As someone who served as Michael Jackson's publicist during the 1st child molestation incident, I must confess I am not surprised by today's tragic news. Michael has been on an impossibly difficult and often self-destructive journey for years. His talent was unquestionable but so too was his discomfort with the norms of the world. A human simply can not withstand this level of prolonged stress.''For the past fifteen years, Jackson had lived under a cloud of accusation, financial pressure and what appeared to be severe mental health issues. Twice accused of child molestation, Jackson was acquitted of all charges by a jury. He settled a previous civil suit brought by the parents of another child out of court. The singer spent the last few years traveling around the world, living off the kindness of world leaders, middle eastern princes and the remnants of what was once an incredible fortune. Arguably the most brilliant song-writer of his generation, Jackson's talent was immeasurable. His life touched billions, as demonstrated by the impassioned defense his fans gave during his legal troubles a decade ago. The news of Michael Jackson's death again demonstrated the power of the Twitter application. A full hour before mainstream news organizations confirmed and reported his passing, his fans were already deep in mourning. As CNN was updating its website with news of Jackson's death, WebmasterRadio.FM was already into an improvised Michael Jackson memorial special. Winner of 13 Grammy Awards, writer of 13 #1 hit singles and the artist behind Thriller, the top selling album of all time, Michael Jackson was a conflicted genius whose influence on American pop culture and world music will take decades to decode.