Michael Jackson and Neda Agha-Soltan had little in common in life. But together last week their deaths in Los Angeles and Tehran consumed the blogosphere and became emblematic of the flow and character of modern communication.
For fans of Jackson, the Web was a place where they could find instant news about his passing and commiserate with others about their feelings and his meaning in their lives. For those following the developments in Iran, the image of "Neda" became a powerful symbol of the protest movement there after an amateur video of her death spread rapidly through Twitter, YouTube and other new media.
They became together the latest demonstration of the power, both emotional and political, of the many-to-many nature of social media.
For the week of June 22-26, discussion of Michael Jackson and Iran in general combined to make up almost half (47%) of the links on blogs and social media as measured in the New Media Index by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Despite the fact that Jackson's death occurred late in the week, stories about the passing of the pop star led all linked-to topics, accounting for 27% of the links embedded in the social media sites tracked by the monitoring services Icerocket and Technorati. On the evening of his death, interest in Jackson was so high that many of sites with the most popular Jackson pages experienced outages and slowdowns. Accompanying comments from bloggers mostly expressed shock at the singer's death and offered moving accounts of his influence.
Amidst tributes to the pop star, political unrest in Iran remained a major topic for the second week running. In PEJ's index of social media, the subject was the No. 2 story last week (accounting 20% of the week's links). While the conversation focused on a range of related issues (from President Obama's response to day-to-day developments in Iran), a remarkable amount of the discussion focused on the woman who died during a protest over the country's disputed elections.
Read the full report The Deaths of Michael Jackson and “Neda” Grip the Blogosphere on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.