‘The King of Pop is Dead’ social-media time trial

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michael_jackson_1971_got_to_be_thereWho was first to report on Michael Jackson’s death?

It’s just after 9:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, June 25 — the day of Michael Jackson’s death.

The first tweet from my admittedly small ‘follow’ list came at 5:24 as a retweet from Daniel McCarthy, who I don’t actually know, but rather stumbled across him in a retweet from a former boss for whom I have a lot of respect. McCarthy’s tweet was a retweet of a source that claimed Michael Jackson died from a sleeping pill. Suicided, accidental overdose, adverse reaction?

C’mon, it’s 140 characters. Ambiguous to be sure. Call it an unfortunate aspect of the medium. Or the fog of war/celebrity reporting.

The next tweet with the news from my list came in 5:45 p.m. (+21 minutes from the first report/+19 minutes from the event)  from TimAmikoff in Tehran, Iran (if I thought it was true, I’d ask if he doesn’t have anything else to do. And how did he end up on my follow list anyway?) TimAmikoff’s was a retweet from  CNN Breaking News, linking to a CNN story online that cited the LA County Coronor as the source, with the death declared at 2:26 p.m. I’m considering that to be the original primary source. It said nothing about cause of death, other than a third-party quote from one of Jackson’s brothers that he had collapsed in his home. I’m inferring (because the full story was vague) the state times were local, which would be time of death of 5:26 p.m. EST — two minutes AFTER I received the very first tweet announcing his death.

Let’s say my computer clock is off two minutes. Practically a probability.

So while CNN’s story took about 29 minutes to make it’s way to my computer via Iran, the news was out to at least one source within a minute or so of Jackson’s declared death.

That’s the one I got from Daniel McArthy, who was retweeting Wierd News, which linked to a Top News Stories site owned by Global Associated News — which seems to be an empty logo used by — a spartan website unencumbered by “About us” links — that in its entirety seems to be a dynamic content generator about fake celebrity news. Seriously.

The story said Jackson had died from a sleeping pill (later elaborated to “cardiac arrest after consuming more than two-dozen sleeping pills.”

At the bottom of the Wierd News Page was this disclaimer: (this story was dynamically generated using a generic ‘template’ and is not factual. Any reference to specific individuals has been 100% fabricated by web site visitors who have created fake stories by entering a name into a blank ‘non-specific’ template for the purpose of entertainment. For sub-domain info and additional use restrictions:

Can it be a coincidence that FakeAWish would generate this story even as it was happening? Or is somebody sabotaging FakeAWish by placing real big breaking news on it — within seconds of it becoming available, and then updating it?

At 6:22 (+58), CNN Breaking News tweeted that Jackson was in a coma — +37 from first reporting he had died.

At 6:30 (+1:06) TimAmikoff cited the LA Times as confirming Jackson’s death. CNN Breaking News followed within a minute, confirming from multiple sources.

A 6:42 (+1:18) the Wall Street Journal tweeted that he had been rushed to the hospital.

At 8:37 (+2:53) The Onion tweeted “The last piece of Michael Jackson dies.”

What it all means is that I still don’t know where the news really comes from. Except I didn’t get it from any of this. I was busy elsewhere. When I looked, it was all there, preserved by my Tweetdeck utility.  But I learned the whole thing at about 7:00 in a phone call from my brother-in-law.


About the Author:

Bob Rosenbaum is founder and principal of The MarketFarm, a content-oriented strategic communications firm.

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