How Michael Jackson Broke The Internet

– The internet is such a complicated piece of infrastructure filled with so many intricate components and constantly moving parts. It comes as no surprise when occasionally things fall short, like when your favorite ceramics blog returns a 404 or that one Newgrounds game just refuses to load properly. These are the things that come with the package of being online. We sometimes have to make sacrifices, but these are the things we typically expect from the more obscure corners of the web, the places that are much more decentralized and don’t have the same resources that say corporations do.

You never really hear about the top websites going down because they always have some kind of plan B, a backup system to prevent that, but you would be wrong. What if I told you that there was a time in our modern world where people didn’t have access to Google due to a devastating server crash? That infamous day was June 25th, 2009, when Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, had died. – He’s unconscious, he’s not breathing? – Yes. He’s not breathing, sir. – Okay, and he’s not conscious either? He’s not breathing? – No, he’s not conscious,

sir. – I can tell you, this is what’s being reported by KTLA. Apparently, Michael Jackson suffered cardiac arrest this afternoon. He was rushed to UCLA Medical Center. – CNN sources are now saying

Michael Jackson is in a coma. – Sisters Janet and Latoya Jackson were also at the hospital as fans texted each other for information outside. – Michael, Michael, Michael, Michael, Michael! – My brother, the legendary King of Pop, Michael Jackson, passed away on Thursday, June 25th, 2009 at 2:26 PM. – I don’t know what to believe right now. I just wanna know what’s happening.

– And I love him so much and now he’s gone. I can’t believe that. – It’s the day that music died. This is definitely something that’s gonna hit our generation forever. (soft music) – There are those certain moments throughout history where the entire world just stops and stares. Everyone seems to remember where they were and what they were doing when man landed on the moon, when John Lennon was murdered. Where were you when Michael Jackson died? I was in the car on a road trip when the news suddenly came blaring through the radio and it

hit me like a truck. But for many people, they were on Google busy searching to confirm that the rumors were true, trying to find that last bit of hope that the world’s favorite pop star hadn’t suddenly left us. I mean, wasn’t he going to be touring next month? But it didn’t matter. It seems that even the internet wasn’t ready for the news of Mr. Jackson’s death, because for the next couple of hours, it would pretty much cease to exist. It wasn’t just Google, either. AOL Instant Messenger went down for over 40 minutes and sites like

TMZ, the Los Angeles Times, Yahoo, Twitter, and Wikipedia were all rendered completely useless. It was as if someone just walked in and just flipped a switch and turned off the internet. When Michael left, he took all the world’s information with him. Just beforehand, the internet experienced traffic it had never seen before, higher than it even was with the recent swine flu outbreak or even with the death of seventies icon Farrah Fawcett, just hours before Michael’s. Web traffic increased by 48% in the UK and 11% throughout the entire world. But what exactly happened and how was

the internet not prepared? Michael’s death was a collective traumatic experience that in many ways defined a whole generation. It signified the end of an era and the start of a new one. It changed the very fabric of our culture and much like Michael himself, changed how we communicate with one another to come together and become a more unified world. Literally it changed how we use the internet by revealing to us its limitations, the way we can improve things technologically, and how we can be sure that such an outage would never happen again. So where did

it all start? Now, this is a difficult area to pinpoint, as the crash was the result of many different people flooding many different communities all at once. It wasn’t the fault of just a singular website in particular. But if we want to get closer to the answer, we need to know who the very first online source was to break the news. That would be TMZ, as their reporters were camping just outside of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center where Michael was taken in his comatose state. The state of Michael’s health at the time wasn’t exactly new

information for his most dedicated fans. Many people who even directly worked with Michael in his last few weeks noticed that something was not right. During the final rehearsals for the planned This Is It tour, filmmaker Kenny Ortega described Michael’s behavior on set and overall health as very, very troubling. But when it was announced that Michael had been airlifted to the hospital in a coma, people truly didn’t realize how bad it actually was. Many people remained glued to their TV sets while many others were still totally unaware of anything happening at all. TMZ announced the news

of Michael’s death just 18 minutes after he was legally pronounced dead by the doctors. But given the reputation TMZ had for not being the most reliable source, a game of telephone quickly followed. Before people knew it, the Los Angeles Times was now reporting it, which was then picked up by CNN, Yahoo, and AOL news. Then naturally more of the public starts to hear about it because it is no longer coming just from one source. In less than 30 minutes, the story was now being told on the radio and then on national television. And it was

at that point when everyone knew. Given how sudden the nature of his death was overall, people were struck with such shock many of them found it hard to even believe. It didn’t feel real, it felt like a dream. Was this just another instance of media sensationalism? The only place to get all the clearest information was through web searches. And that was when the internet took a bit of a turn. Google trends saw keyword search traffic for Michael Jackson that had literally never been seen before. Likely more inquiries than for any other topic before it in

online history. The number of searches was so rapid and were all so similar, Google literally thought that it was under a DDoS attack, bringing the entire website’s traffic to a halt. And of course, all those Google searches are what redirected folks to the sites they were looking for. TMZ’s article on the event received an insurmountable rise in traffic. Obviously, the web servers could not handle all this rapid homogenous-looking traffic, promptly taking the entire website down. With an entire source now inaccessible, people then flocked to other websites to get their information. CNN was followed with their

traffic increasing fivefold. Their article on Michael alone would reach to 20 million views in just one hour, also facing intense network interruption. Twitter was returning fail whales to users when Michael started making up 15% of all tweets at that time. It seemed that everyone had the reverse Midas touch and then resorted to more secondary sources like Perez Hilton’s blog, but not even that could withstand this internet tidal wave. It only took around an hour for the world to accidentally DDoS all the web’s biggest news sites, take down an entire search engine, and essentially break the

internet. It’s hard to imagine that something as simple as a search query was able to cause such havoc across the virtual world. I mean, this was 2009, not 1999. Could you really still say that the internet was too new to know any better? Well, yes, you can. You have to remember that the internet ages much faster than real life. 2009 feels like it was pretty recent, but in internet years, that’s like dinosaurs. Things had changed drastically since it entered the mainstream space in the nineties, but there was very much still communities out there planting their

roots and trying to discover themselves. And the same thing can be said about the technological aspects as well. Let’s first try to understand how a DDoS attack works. In very simple terms, a DDoS attack is when you have a bunch of computers sending information, what we call packets, over to a single server all at the same time. Okay, simple enough. But how do we know the difference between a DDoS attack and actual legitimate traffic for a website that is simply just popular? I mean, Google alone gets around 63,000 searches a second. How are they not

just under a permanent DDoS attack? Well, thankfully, computers can quite easily tell the difference. DDoS packets typically contain the bare minimum amount of information needed and exhibit very basic uniform qualities. In short, in your typical DDoS attack all the requests pretty much look the same. Whereas with regular traffic, you get people searching all kinds of things. And with that in mind, websites are typically trained over time to see which kind of queries are high but natural, and which are just flat out unnatural. Michael Jackson getting thousands of searches per hour isn’t unusual. He’s an insanely

popular figure. But when he died, that number rose to 5 million. Not only statistically significant and unusual, but literally never seen before in internet history up until that point. Suddenly, Google is getting astronomically high search volumes for the same basic keyword, Michael Jackson, showing very similar behavior to a DDoS attack and things just don’t look right. To save bandwidth, Google’s instincts kick in and it blocks the traffic altogether, effectively shutting it down. But why the internet? For such a historical decade-defining event, you would imagine people would just be catatonic, glued to the TV and radio.

Well, if the answer wasn’t already obvious, the internet literally gave us the entire world at our fingertips. This has arguably made us as humans more impatient and hungrier for information. If someone doesn’t like what the TV is saying about a subject, they can just go online and learn about it somewhere else. A privilege not as common before the internet was around. But there actually is more to it than that and it has to do with one of the negative side effects that came with the creation of the internet, misinformation. It was no longer limited to

just a handful of companies in charge of telling the news. With the internet, everyone is the news and anyone can say anything that they want. It was not uncommon for celebrity death hoaxes to start popping up everywhere because of someone just trying to play a practical joke online. eventually tracked a lot of these down to a website that lets you type in a celebrity name and then generate a convincing webpage for their death. Consequently, it wasn’t uncommon for people outside the internet to fall for these hoaxes. Considering that the first source was TMZ, which

was known for being questionable and borderline salacious, many people who may have even been in denial about Michael’s death, would have gone online to the more trusted, reputable websites for confirmation, thereby flooding the internet. The misinformation wouldn’t stop after Michael’s death, however, as a ton of Wikipedia vandalism surrounding the subject would surface as well. As you would’ve guessed, Wikipedia servers also crashed, as it had just received the highest number of visitors in the site’s history. But more celebrities are going to die eventually. How do we prevent the internet from ever doing something like this ever

again? Well, there’s a good chance we probably can’t, but we can take measures to combat it and significantly lessen the severity. There are methods for preventing DDoS attacks, and it’s through the use of CDN servers. Short for content delivery network, CDNs are designed to make the delivery of information as quick and efficient as possible. So when a DDoS attack is happening, it will take all the packets targeted at that one server and redistribute them to multiple other servers that deliver them to the same destination. That way, a crash doesn’t happen because of a very higher

than normal traffic. And if a crash were to happen, the CDN could also host a cached version of the site, a sort of bare bones screenshot version that allows the user to get the information they desire. Now, CDN servers obviously did exist before, but it can be argued that Michael Jackson’s death did highly emphasize their importance. Wikipedia also put in measures afterwards, creating something called PoolCounter, a tool designed to intentionally limit the amount of users coming in to prevent massive wastage of CPU power. A term was even coined for this strange phenomenon of insanely high

internet traffic, called the Michael Jackson effect. While we aren’t guaranteed to prevent such an incident from ever happening again, we have at least prepared ourselves to make things less detrimental. On that Thursday afternoon, not only did we lose one of the most influential icons of the 20th century, but we realized there was so much more to the internet that we didn’t know. We learned a lot and we continue learning every day. So how many people does it truly take to shut down the internet? Well, with its technology constantly changing, there’s no way to know for

sure, but according to CNN, all it takes is just one person if that person is Michael Jackson. – Sing, Michael. ♪ We are the world, we are the world ♪ ♪ We are the children ♪ ♪ We are the ones who make a brighter day ♪ ♪ So let’s start giving ♪ ♪ There’s a choice we’re making ♪ ♪ We’re saving our own lives ♪ ♪ It’s true we’ll make a better day, just you and me ♪ ♪ Oh ♪

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