This article was published on May 2, 2011

How news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke online

How news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke online
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Former CEO of The Next Web. A fan of startups, entrepreneurship, getting things done faster, penning the occasional blog post, taking photos Former CEO of The Next Web. A fan of startups, entrepreneurship, getting things done faster, penning the occasional blog post, taking photos, designing, listening to good music and making lurrrve.

Once again social media makes the news for breaking the news.

This morning, President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed and captured. Fascinatingly it was on Twitter, some time earlier, that first rumors of Bin Laden’s death first circulated.

It was an announcement on twitter at 9:45 p.m. PST on Sunday from Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, that initially brought light to the fact that major news was to be announced.

“POTUS to address the nation tonight at 10:30 PM Eastern Time.” (POTUS being the President of the United States)

No one was aware that the address would be to announce the death of Osama bin Laden, but, according to the NY Times, Washington reporters were immediately speculating that the announcement may be about bin Laden.

40 minutes later, at 10:25 p.m, Keith Urbahn, chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted:

“So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn.”

Just like that, the news spread like wildfire across the twittersphere and of course on to Facebook, causing a bigger spike in the US than the Royal Wedding on Friday.

At this point Obama was still writing his speech.

It wasn’t officially confirmed by traditional media until 20 minutes later and President Obama didn’t speak until 11:35.

What makes this all the more interesting is that it has been reported that even before it had been speculated that Osama bin Laden had been killed in this mission, two twitter users were describing the raid as it happened.

One, Sohaib Athar, unaware of the significance, tweeted about the raid from Abbottabad, Pakistan  – a stream of his updates can be found here.

Another user Mohcin Shah also tweeted the raid from his own standing point.

“Seems something nasty happening in #Abbottabad, God save us.”

Since the announcement, a number of online tools have been put to good use as a way to amuse and educate.

For example, a Google Maps user has pinpointed the exact location where Osama had been killed. Many however are claiming it to be false as it’s the same spot that comes up when simply searching for Abbottabad in Google Maps. Nevertheless, this hasn’t stopped Google Maps users from leaving reviews of the premises. One particularly funny one:

Tools like Storify are being used to re-enact the various tweets and messages that brought the news to light and a Tumblr has already been created to highlight the more amusing updates on his death.

Less amusing is a picture (NSFW) circulating of bin Laden with a gun shot wound to his head. Viral news tracking service Buzzfeed (NSFW) debunks the claim by saying the photo has in fact been circulating since 2009 – MSNBC goes into further detail.

The Internet and more specifically social media’s role in news discovery is hugely significant but it is crucial we remember the countless incidents where Social Media has failed us and rumors of a person’s death have proven to be untrue. Social Media is a wonderfully powerful tool but with ‘power’ (arguably) distributed equally among its users, scepticism until proven true by trusted sources is essential.

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