How The Death Of Osama Bin Laden Broke On Twitter

Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has been killed by US forces in Pakistan. He was attacked in a ground operation based on US intelligence from last August, and after “a firefight” his body was captured by the American military.

(And then, uh, almost immediately buried at sea. More on that later.)

Bin Laden’s death has now been confirmed by various sources, including President Barack Obama. As the news broke, Twitter played an important role in the exchange of information, both from mainstream sources and those right on the scene.

The first official announcement that something big was taking place was made by White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, who wrote this tweet at 9.47pm ET.

At this stage nobody knew what the President was going to say, but news agencies around the world quickly figured something important had happened, and reporters in Washington began to speculate that it may be the death of Bin Laden, reports the New York Times.

Brian Williams, the anchor on NBC Nightly News, has stated that some journalists received a three-word email that simply said: “Get to work.”

At 10.24pm ET, Keith Urbahn, former chief of staff under Donald Rumsfeld, wrote this:

At this point the news began to spread around the internet at a furious pace and it wasn’t long before various related keywords were dominating Twitter’s trending topics, and in less than half an hour the mainstream media had begun to report on the story.

Celebrations began around the world.

President Obama put the icing on the cake when he spoke at 11.35pm ET, the video of which is below.

Twitter received a live stream of Obama’s speech via the @whitehouse account.

This is the mainstream reportage surrounding Bin Laden’s death that most of Twitter followed and shared. However, independent sources were also at work, and some were right on the scene, including Sohaib Athar who, in his own words, ‘liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it’.

The full stream of Athar’s tweets has been put together by Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, and can be found here.

Other locals also played their part in the exchange of information, including Mohcin Shah and Hania Ahmed.

Around 1am ET this morning, Twitter reported that the network saw more than 4,000 tweets per second (TPS) at the beginning and end of Obama’s speech.

This isn’t a record – I believe that’s still held by the 6,939 TPS that Twitter saw on the stroke of the last New Year’s Eve in Japan – but the aftermath of this will guarantee that Bin Laden-related topics and tweets will be prominent for some time to come.

Especially because they’ve already disposed of his body and the way that it was done. I’m no political analyst, but I have to say I’m flabbergasted as to how this has been handled. This is a HUGE win for Obama, and the timing couldn’t be better, especially after the recent Birther movement nonsense.

So, after years trying to hunt down and finally capturing the world’s most wanted man, why, oh why, oh why did they immediately then bury him at sea? As if we need to make it easy for the conspiracy nuts to start a rumour that he’s still alive. And when you read the reasons why, you begin to wonder if they might actually be on to something. Indeed, #conspiracy is already a trending topic. Let’s hope they actually did get some of that DNA and some reliable independent witnesses, otherwise this is going to drag on for a long, long time. And whatever happens, you know that Twitter is going to be there to play a major, major role.

UPDATE: DNA tests have now confirmed that it was absolutely, positively and definitely Osama’s body. Well, almost.

“Bin Laden’s DNA has been matched to several family members. And there is at least 99 percent certainty that the DNA matches that of Osama Bin Laden,” an official told the Associated Foreign Press.

Ah. Too bad. So close. That dreaded 1% of uncertainty. Conspiracists will be dining out on that missing percentile for years.

Publish date: May 2, 2011 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT