Reports Of Jackson's Death Roil Wikipedia

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As news organizations reported Michael Jackson's hospitalization on Thursday afternoon, Wikipedia editors were wrestling with the problem of whether to allow an unverified report of the singer's death to appear on the online encyclopedia.

The entertainment site TMZ.com reported at 5:20 p.m. ET that, "We're told when paramedics arrived Jackson had no pulse and they never got a pulse back."

Some Wikipedians repeatedly deleted references to Jackson's alleged demise, saying in separate comments that "This is not yet verified," "He's not dead," "Premature edits," and "ONCE AGAIN, HE IS NOT DEAD, JUST STOP."

But they were too slow for the legions of Wikipedia users who descended on the site and repeatedly modified the entry about the pop star. The typical edit was to insert today as the date of Jackson's demise. Others were more subtle; one used the word "was" instead of "is," while another edit called "Invincible" his "last studio album."

By around 6:15 p.m. ET, Wikipedia appeared to be temporarily overloaded. The site reported the error: "Sorry! This site is experiencing technical difficulties.... Cannot contact the database server: Unknown error (10.0.6.24))"

Plenty of blogs echoed TMZ's report, but news organizations tended to be more cautious. Fox News said Jackson's "condition wasn't immediately clear," while Reuters cited TMZ.

The Los Angeles Times initially reported that Jackson was in a coma, and then updated their story at 6:15 p.m. ET to say: "Pop star Michael Jackson was pronounced dead by doctors this afternoon after arriving at a hospital in a deep coma, city and law enforcement sources told The Times." (The Times' Web server was overloaded and could only be reached intermittently.)

Around the same time, the Wikipedia editors had finally intervened in the edit-and-delete-the-edits scrum. One locked two articles about Jackson and his health for about six hours, which prevented them from being modified until the situation became more clear.
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    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

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