Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

What Wikipedia views can tell us about how we process celebrity deaths

Illustration for article titled What Wikipedia views can tell us about how we process celebrity deaths
Photo: Kevin Winter (Getty Images)

The death of a celebrity has always been big news, but nowadays it’s maybe best described as all-encompassing. Tributes and thinkpieces flood every site, while your social media feed turns into a battle of competitive grieving. This can be cathartic for some, who, in the wake of the loss, want to immerse themselves in every aspect of the celebrity, while others can get overwhelmed or even annoyed, especially if you’ve never heard of the now-deceased.

It’s that latter group that’s likely responsible for much of the data culled by Pudding’s latest interactive study. Writer Russell Goldenberg studied the Wikipedia traffic of more than 1,300 celebrities who died in the past three years, exploring the ways in which their traffic spiked after their death and the length of time it took for that traffic to go back to normal. Prince’s Wikipedia traffic spiked the highest, reaching roughly 11 million pageviews in the 48 hours following his passing. Stephen Hawking, Anthony Bourdain, David Bowie, and Chester Bennington also saw significant spikes, likely due to the younger, tech-obsessed generation having no clue who all the olds wouldn’t stop tweeting about. Inversely, the high spikes of XXXtentacion and Aviici’s pages likely represent the nation’s dads trying to understand why their kids were so sad.

Often, Goldenberg discovers, the desire for information on that celebrity can eclipse other noteworthy news stories, whether it be the NBA finals, the royal wedding, or Donald Trump’s inauguration (in terms of Wikipedia searches, a lot more people cared about Carrie Fisher’s passing than they did our president).


Also interesting are the celebrities whose pageviews are still spiking compared to the numbers from before their passing. “There are plenty of possible reasons for this; perhaps the person was relatively unknown before, and their death increased their visibility. Or maybe there was a renewed interest in their life’s work,” writes Goldenberg.

He’s not wrong; the top four seeing an increased interest in the wake of their passings are rapper Lil Peep, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington, Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan, and singer Christina Grimmie. In the case of Bennington and O’Riordan, it’s likely a renewed interest, as both had seen their celebrity diminished somewhat in recent years; their deaths hit old fans hard. Lil Peep, despite being relatively unknown, received plenty of press and tributes upon his passing, due to a rabid fanbase, and has been routinely name-checked as an influence on the rising tide of “emo rap.” And Grimmie, unfortunately, is likely seeing the traffic due to the tragic, shocking nature of her death.

Explore the entire study here.

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.

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