The sheer number of queries concerned Google
The internet suffered a number of slowdowns as people the world over rushed to verify accounts of Michael Jackson’s death.
Search giant Google confirmed to the BBC that when the news first broke it feared it was under attack.
Millions of people who Googled the star’s name were greeted with an error page rather than a list of results.
It warned users “your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application”.
“It’s true that between approximately 2.40PM Pacific and 3.15PM Pacific, some Google News users experienced difficulty accessing search results for queries related to Michael Jackson and saw the error page,” said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker.
It was around this time that the singer was officially pronounced dead.
Google’s trends page showed that searches for Michael Jackson had reached such a volume that in its so called “hotness” gauge the topic was rated “volcanic”.
The BBC news website reported that traffic to the site at 0400 BST was 48% higher than average.
Google was not the only company overwhelmed by the public’s clamour for information.
The microblogging service Twitter crashed with the sheer volume of people using the service.
Searches for topics related to Michael Jackson peaked at 3PM Pacific
Queries about the star soon rocketed to the top of its updates and searches. But the amount of traffic meant it suffered one of its well-known outages.
Before the company’s servers crashed, TweetVolume noted that “Michael Jackson” appeared in more than 66,500 Twitter updates.
According to initial data from Trendrr, a Web service that tracks activity on social media sites, the number of Twitter posts Thursday afternoon containing “Michael Jackson” totaled more than 100,000 per hour.
That put news of Jackson’s death at least on par with the Iran protests, as Twitter posts about Iran topped 100,000 per hour on June 16 and eventually climbed to 220,000 per hour.
Early reports of Mr Jackson’s death and the confusion surrounding it caused a rash of changes and corrections to be made on his Wikipedia page as editors tried to keep up with events and the number of people trying to update the page.
TMZ, the popular celebrity gossip site that broke the story following a tip-off that a paramedic had visited the singers home also crashed.
There was a domino effect as users then fled to other sites. Hollywood gossip writer Perez Hilton’s site was among those to flame out.
Keynote Systems reported that its monitoring showed performance problems for the web sites of AOL, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Yahoo.
Beginning at 2.30PM Pacific “the average speed for downloading news sites doubled from less than four seconds to almost nine seconds,” said Shawn White, Keynote’s director of external operations.
He told Data Center Knowledge that “during the same period, the average availability of sites on the index dropped from almost 100% to 86%”.