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Image: POP ICON MICHAEL JACKSON DEAD AT 50
Gerard Burkhart  /  AFP - Getty Images
Fans mourn the death of pop icon Michael Jackson on June 25, 2009 in Los Angeles California.
Helen Popkin
By
msnbc.com
updated 6/26/2009 5:39:20 PM ET 2009-06-26T21:39:20

News of Michael Jackson’s death broke on the Internet late Thursday afternoon. Not long after that, the Internet broke too. Twitter crashed, as did Michael Jackson’s Wikipedia entry. Facebook lumbered under countless Michael Jackson video uploads retrieved from an over-accessed YouTube, and both ground to a halt.

Everything else online, including the historic battle over democracy currently being raged in Iran, paled as people clambered onto social networks to confirm what they were hearing was really true.

Eventually, the World Wide Web recovered, Jackson traffic revved up, and per their predictable nature, Internet cranks made their feelings known.

“‘Micheal Jackson’ (sic) is the trending topic. Good job, America,” one unusually adroit culture critic posted on Twitter, in reference to the microblogging site’s leading topics (and the misspelling). Most were more typically ranty about Michael Jackson usurping Iran as the latest historical moment in both the news and social networking history, such as this tweet:

“It's pitiful how fickle the American people are. People ate, slept and breathed Iran until Michael Jackson died. Really?! Good grief.”

Or this “Not that this is more important than Michael Jackson dropping dead...Iran doctor tells of Neda's death.”

Image: Jackson facebook
AFP - Getty Images
A screengrab taken on June 26, 2009 shows a group on the social networking site Facebook in memory Michael Jackson.
Yep. For every social network, there are countless passive-aggressive jackasses who seem to believe anyone expressing a thought on a single topic is obviously incapable of multitasking interests and emotions. If anything, social networks prove that we as a species are not mono-themed. Maybe the news is wall-to-wall MJ, but social networks can chew gum and walk at the same time.

When Twitter support for the protesters in Iran hit critical mass, author and Internet smartypants Clay Shirky pointed out once again that Twitter’s immediacy meant it wasn’t the best source for accurate information, but a perfect gauge of universal emotion.

Our concerns, both internal and external, do not operate on zero-sum balance. While #Michael Jackson, #RIP MJ, #Thriller, #Pop (as in “Prince of…”), and even #Farrah Fawcett take up most of Twitter’s current trends, #iranelection never left the list. (Pretty much, neither did #unfollowperezhilton.)

Social networks are a collective brain that, like individual brains, allow for dissimilar ideas to occur simultaneously: A pop star who died. A historic battle for demoracy in a region devoid of it. This is social networks on mourn.

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Rest assured, those who temporarily switch their green-shaded Twitter avatars to a Michael Jackson headshot are not dooming Iranian protesters any more than re-tweeting every piece of information and/or misinformation about Iran and changing your Twitter location to Tehran will save them. 

Meanwhile, this sudden wave of mournful nostalgia, all these videos and songs posted on personal profiles, come from three generations of Americans that grew up with Michael Jackson as a constant. To spite ourselves, we feel like we know him.

As much as it pains me to draw attention to John Mayer’s generally insipid tweets, his anomalous comment about MJ is true, no matter what you think about Jackson, he is “a major strand of our cultural DNA.”

(Ten hours later, Mayer was back to his regular Twitter form, updating the world on his NyQuil intake.)

It was as if the past 20 years had been erased. As always the case with grief, Jackson's death gave us permission to ignore decades of weirdness, forget the haunting and unproven allegations, and appreciate everything that was great about him. And there was a lot great about him. We listened to his music and watched his videos with an enjoyment that can only be described as pure.

“It's amazing how music can store so many memories,” Shantae Joseph posted on her Facebook status.

“It's amazing how many stations can all play ‘Thriller’ at the same time,” her friend Angel responded, aptly.

Unlike two days previous, nobody was interested in making jokes about the plight of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. No more punny lines such as “Appalachian Tail” or “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” Even those given to Internet cynicism weren’t in the mood.

“Please Note: If you feel the need to bitch about Michael Jackson getting coverage, know you will be blocked. Emo is being EMO.” tweeted @emokidsloveme, whose avatar still features an Iran-supporting fist wrapped in green.

Slideshow: Michael Jackson: 1958 - 2009 This isn’t just about a pop star of talent directly inverse to his oddness. This is about us too. When a childhood totem dies, we feel the wind blow across our graves.

What’s more, as blanket pooh-poohers on Twitter, Facebook and everywhere else criticize what they see as America’s fickle tweets, they succumb to their own Western centrism. The United States is far from alone in this social network wake.

More than any entertainer ever, Michael Jackson is an international phenomenon, perhaps even more beloved beyond this hemisphere, where news about his increasingly problematic behavior was overshadowed by his music and glamour.

The morning after Jackson’s death, it seemed the whole world shared their grief. Even Iran. Friday on MSNBC, Iranian-born international affairs author Reza Aslan talked about how strange it was, monitoring Twitter feeds from Iran, seeing tweets about horrific gun fire interspersed with those about Michael Jackson. “It shows not just what a big influence (Jackson) had in the world but how much we have in common with Iranians,” he said.

Like the international support for Iran, Jackson’s death marked an historic point in social networking. His death generated the most tweets per second on Twitter since Barack Obama was elected president.

"We saw over twice the normal tweets per second the moment the story broke as people shared their grief and memories," Twitter co-founder Biz Stone told the Associated Press via e-mail.

Of course, it wasn’t all about memories. Along with the “Is this the only thing we care about?” monothoughtist sect, there were plenty of gallows guffaws ranging from giggle-inducing to tasteless.

Then there were the pranksters who slammed Twitter with rumors about actor Jeff Goldblum’s fictional demise, enough to get the actor’s name briefly in the site’s top trends. Once the Internet recovered from the initial slam, budding urban legends about the “facts” of Jackson’s death hit warp speed.

On “Oh No They Didn’t,” which suffered various crashes along with other celebrity gossip sites, snarky users expressed their collective grief by posting a Fantasia Barino gif, in which the American Idol star wails and flails her arms wildly. Many bemoaned how the humor was now gone from another popular image taken from “Thriller,” featuring an excited Jackson eating popcorn, commonly posted by an uninvolved party when a flame-worthy topic hits the forum.

This too is grief. Grief is weird. It expresses itself in often odd, seemingly inappropriate ways. Grief permeates in all areas of life, including the Internet. And that’s no sin.

Follow Helen A.S. Popkin on Twitter or friend her on on Facebook.

© 2013 msnbc.com Reprints

Photos: World reaction

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  1. Michael Jackson fans cry as they embrace during a public gathering to watch Jackson's memorial service on a giant television screen along 125th street in the Harlem section of New York on Tuesday, July 7. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Residents walk past a graffiti depicting late U.S. pop star Michael Jackson in Port-au-Prince, Tuesday, July 7. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Michael Jackson fans gather to pay tribute to the late pop legend at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Tuesday, July 7. (Kin Cheung / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A Michael Jackson look-alike dances during a tribute to the late pop icon in Mexico City's main square Zocalo on Tuesday, July 7. (Eliana Aponte / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Images and messages to singer Michael Jackson are displayed on the wall outside the Lyric Theatre in London, on Tuesday, July 7. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Swiss fans of Jackson attend a memorial ceremony at the Rathausbrucke bridge in Zurich, Switzerland, on Saturday, July 4. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mackenzie Houck, right, visits a makeshift memorial for Jackson that has sprung up outside the Jackson family home in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino on Wednesday, July 1. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Michael Townes holds a portrait of a young Michael Jackson as he and other people wait in line for a public memorial for the pop star at the Apollo Theater on Tuesday, June 30. Fans began converging on the Apollo soon after Jackson died Thursday in Los Angeles. It has continued to serve as an impromptu memorial site in the days since. Jackson's ties to the theater go back to 1967, when The Jackson 5 won the Apollo’s Amateur Night contest. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A hat, sunglasses and a single white glove are displayed on stage at the Apollo Theater on Tuesday, June 30, in New York. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bronx resident Conchita Jones, right, comforts her crying daughter Essence, 13, during a tribute to Jackson at Harlem's Apollo Theater in New York on Tuesday, June 30. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Kena Patterson of Los Angeles writes out "MJ" with lit candles at a makeshift memorial outside the family home of late pop star Michael Jackson in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles early Monday, June 29. (Gus Ruelas / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Graffiti depicting the young Michael Jackson on the walls of an undergound passage in Stuttgart, Germany. The painting was created over the past weekend during a legal graffiti session at Stuttgart's "Hall of Fame." (Marijan Murat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan's Sindh provincial Minister for Culture Sassui Palijo, left, lays a flower bouquet beside a huge poster of Michael Jackson during a ceremony to pay tribute to the late entertainer Monday in Hyderabad, Pakistan. (Pervez Masih / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Singer Janet Jackson, sister of the late singer Michael Jackson, speaks at the 2009 BET Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on Tuesday, June 28, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A poster board containing greetings from fans of the late Michael Jackson was on hand during a candlelight vigil in front of Hitsville, the Motown Records Museum in Detroit, Mich., on Sunday, June 28. (Gary Malerba / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Michael Jackson fan mourns the death of the "King of Pop" at the U.S. embassy in Moscow on Sunday, June 28. (Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A fan of Michael Jackson shouts before a candlelight vigil held in tribute to the pop music icon in the city of Lima, Peru, on Sunday, June 28. (Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Michael Jackson's fans gather for a commemoration in Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy, on June 27. (Vince Paolo Gerace / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Filipino inmates perform in front of a portrait of Pop star Michael Jackson inside the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the central Philippines on Saturday. Around 1,581 orange-clad Filipino inmates who gained worldwide attention for an impressive "Thriller" performance on YouTube paid their last respects to the late "King of Pop." (Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A member of Michael Jackson's Fan Club in Vietnam poses with a portrait during a memorial tribute at a cafe in Hanoi on June 27. Jackson's death dominated news bulletins, radio airwaves and Web sites the world over on June 26 as tributes poured in for a man called the "King of Pop" and "natural heir to Elvis." (Kham / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Taiwanese Michael Jackson impersonators Wang Chi-wei, 31, right, and Lee Yen-ting dance Jackson-stylized moves in Taipei, Taiwan on June 27. In 1993, Wang was voted as best impersonator of Michael Jackson in an island-wide contest allowing him to meet with the pop star. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Fans dance to celebrate the life of pop icon Michael Jackson at Washington Square Park in New York on Friday, June 26. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Fans read a banner hanging near the Jackson family home in Encino, Calif., on Friday. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Michael Jackson fans react during a vigil in Santiago, Chile, on Friday, June 26. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Fans sing as they pay respects to the late pop star Michael Jackson near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Friday, June 26.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Michael Jackson's fans gather to mark his death in Paris, on Friday, June 26.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Thibault Camus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Two women sob at a sidewalk shrine at the star of Michael Jackson on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Friday, June 26.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Russians lay flowers in memory of late pop star Michael Jackson at the U.S. embassy in Moscow on Friday, June 26. Fans around the world grieved for Michael Jackson while his star friends in Hollywood and music declared themselves devastated by the sudden death of the "King of Pop." (Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Fans hold up a sea of single-gloved hands in an impromptu celebration of the life of Michael Jackson. They gathered outside UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after he was pronounced dead on Thursday, June 25.
    (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Young fans of Michael Jackson take part in a candlelight memorial to commemorate him in Karachi, Pakistan, on Friday, June 26. (Shakil Adil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A fan sits after laying a tribute to Michael Jackson at the O2 Arena in London on Friday, June 26. The 50-year-old superstar was preparing for what would be a series of 50 concerts starting July 13 at London's famed 02 arena. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Sand sculptures of Michael Jackson, a guitar and his fedora hat, made by Sudarshan Pattnaik, are seen at the Golden Sea Beach for the fans to pay floral tribute at Puri, India, on Friday, June 26. (Biswaranjan Rout / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. An Indonesian painter puts out a painting of the late U.S. pop star Michael Jackson in front of his booth for sale on the street in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday, June 26. The pop star Michael Jackson died June 25, collapsing after a cardiac arrest at his home in Los Angeles, officials said.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A Japanese fan reacts as she looks at a commemorative stand for Michael Jackson at a music shop in Tokyo, Friday. (Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Michael Jackson look-a-like Wu Di, who has been performing as Michael Jackson in local bars for two years, dances as he poses for pictures in the street in Beijing, Friday. (Reinhard Krause / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A woman checks the breaking news of Michael Jackson's death at an electronic store in Hsintien, Taipei county on Friday. (Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A fan of Michael Jackson attends a vigil in Mexico City on Thursday.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Eduardo Verdugo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A pedestrian in Times Square holds up a sign while a silhouette of Michael Jackson is displayed on a billboard in New York on Thursday, June 25. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Jermaine Jackson, brother of late pop star Michael Jackson, speaks at a news conference at UCLA hospital in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Fans mourn the death of pop icon Michael Jackson on Thursday, June 25, in Los Angeles.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Gerard Burkhart / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Fans gather outside of the Apollo Theater in New York to remember pop star Michael Jackson on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Cory Schwartz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, pauses for a moment before a news conference held after the death of Michael Jackson, Thursday, June 25. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Tyson Stevens, center, joins other fans on Thursday to remember Michael Jackson at the star they believe belongs to the pop star, but actually belongs to a radio personality of the same name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. (Philip Scott Andrews / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A woman cries on the phone as she tells a friend that Michael Jackson has passed away on Thursday, June 25, in Los Angeles. The iconic pop star, 50, was rushed to the hospital after going into cardiac arrest, according to reports. (Ann Johansson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks in front of the Apollo Theater to the media on Thursday, June 25, about the death of Michael Jackson. (Louis Lanzano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Curator Curtis Huber, left, and curator assistant Eric Valencia lift a wax figure of Michael Jackson to put in the front display at the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco on Thursday, June 25. (Jeff Chiu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Lana Brown, a tourist from Dallas, cries as she hugs her 10-year-old son Tovre as they mourn the death of pop star Michael Jackson outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Police tape hangs across the street near the emergency room dock outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Fans of Michael Jackson gather at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. People watch the news about Michael Jackson in New York's Times Square on Thursday, June 25.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. TJ Thomas and Marie Bouchard remember Michael Jackson at what they believe to be the singer's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. Jackson's star was covered by the red carpet for Sascha Baron Cohen's premiere of the movie "Bruno" when the news broke. (Nick Ut / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. A Michael Jackson fan reacts to the news about the "King of Pop" outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Michael Jackson fans embrace in New York on day of Jackson's memorial service
    Mike Segar / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (52) Fans react to loss - World reaction
  2. Michael Jackson in a Butterfly Collar Shirt
    Henry Diltz / Corbis
    Slideshow (36) Fans react to loss - Life and career
  3. MICHAEL JACKSON
    AP
    Slideshow (16) Fans react to loss - The face of change
  4. 6th Annual RFK Tennis Tournament Party
    Ron Galella / WireImage
    Slideshow (13) Fans react to loss - Famous friends
  5. Courtesy of the Malnik family
    Slideshow (12) Fans react to loss - Jackson’s children unveiled

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