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The Deaths of Michael Jackson and “Neda” Grip the Blogosphere

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.

To many, the pictures of Agha-Soltan's last moments personified the cruelty of the Iranian government in response to the protests. A graphic video of Agha-Soltan's death was the most viewed news video of the week on YouTube.

The third-largest story-line on blogs and social media last week, receiving 10% of the links, dealt with the Obama administration. Much of the attention was focused on a June 24 Washington Post column by Dana Milbank where he sarcastically referred to Obama's recent press conference as the "The Obama Show" and chastised the alleged collaboration between the White House and a reporter from the Huffington Post.

The fourth story (also at 10%) was the admission by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford that he had been having an extra-marital affair with a woman from Argentina after he had gone missing for several days.

Fifth (at 9%) was an unusual BBC story about Australian wallabies reportedly eating opium poppies and hoping around in circles "as high as a kite."

On a separate social networking platform, Twitter, Jackson and Iran were also the two most linked-to news topics, although the emphasis was different than in the blogs. According to the tracking site Tweetmeme, which tracks links embedded in tweets across the globe, Iran represented 64% of the "news-related" links while Michael Jackson was second at 18%. In other words, the pop star was a major topic, but it did not overtake the intense involvement of this platform in the post-election Iranian protests.

In the traditional press, Iran and Michael Jackson also led the week's agenda combining for 37% of the week's newshole according to PEJ's News Coverage Index. Governor Sanford's scandal was third followed by coverage of the health care reform debate in Washington and continuing reporting about the U.S. economy.

The Deaths of Michael Jackson and “Neda” Grip the Blogosphere