Bin Laden Dead: Twitter Trumps Traditional News Outlets Again

by Jordan Richardson on May 3, 2011

The incredible connections we experience through social networking sites like Twitter were, once again, at the centre of history as news of the death of Osama bin Laden fluttered in over the wires.

Traditional media scrambled to get the story out late Sunday, but it was Twitter that had gums and keyboards flapping first. As the media piled into position to cover what was then an unknown Barack Obama press conference at the White House, social networking was making headway into what the president was going to say.

At 10:24 pm, Keith Urbahn tweeted: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.” Urbahn, the chief of staff for the office of Donald Rumsfeld, had the first bit of credible information on the news. Six minutes later, CBS News confirmed it – again on Twitter. President Obama didn’t take to the podium until 11:35 pm. By the time he dropped the announcement, everybody knew what he was going to say.

The gap between knowing what the news was and hearing what the news was stood as an interesting reminder of just how information is getting around these days. In this enticing era of citizen journalism and micro-blogging, what happens in the broad world outside is brought to the screens of millions in mere seconds.

Take the case of 33-year-old Sohaib Athar. The computer programmer moved to Abbottabad to escape the clatter of the big city. He took to Twitter in the early hours of Monday morning (Pakistan time, of course) to tweet about the sudden sound of a helicopter over head. Little did he know that the sound of a sole chopper would morph into gunfire and explosions. In his own words, Athar became “the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

Twitter has been in the front seat of many historical events as of late. Whether the Fort Hood shooting or the crash landing of U.S. Airways commercial jet on New York’s Hudson River, regular people have been providing input and insight on the news as it happens. Pictures and commentary have come from the frontlines, providing exciting and legitimate context that offsets the traditional and often sluggish nature of traditional news media outlets.

The demise of Osama bin Laden is the biggest event to be “captured by Twitter” since the site’s inception. The rapid and sometimes rabid discussion reveals a world that is bigger that our own backyards and larger than our own national media outlets allow for. Things move fast and suddenly out there, with time given little to no precedence over the passage of history. Today’s social media, together with astute amateur reporting, has made a deeper understanding of our world possible.

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Written by: Jordan Richardson. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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