Bin Laden and Twitter: Tracking major moments through ones and zeroes
News of Osama bin Laden's death broke on Twitter, and drove up Web traffic worldwide.
The Internet –– good for disseminating pictures of cats, and also good for changing the way that everyone in the world experiences major historical events. Earlier this month, a team of SEAL commandos burst into a compound in Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden, the head of the Al Qaeda terrorist network. In years past, news of the raid would have been tightly controlled by the White House, and released to the press in careful, pre-apportioned doses.Skip to next paragraph
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Consider first the way in which the news of the raid was first broadcast. On the evening of May 1, a tech consultant named Sohaib Athar used Twitter to unwittingly live blog the arrival of US forces in the city of Abbottabad, beginning with the (apparently noisy) arrival of American choppers and the clatter of gunfire. "Interesting rumors in the otherwise uneventful Abbottabad air today," Athar wrote.
Athar did not put the pieces together until later –– "Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it," he joked –– but his tweets were picked up by several mainstream media outlets, and have since been used to help create a timeline of the raid. Which just goes to show: In the age of high-speed Internet and Twitter, there is no longer such a thing as a top secret mission, even one undertaken by the secretive folks at SEAL Team Six.
The Twitter rumors were flying on this side of the world, as well. On May 1, Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, took to the microblogging platform to spread the word of the bin Laden raid. "So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn," Urbahn wrote, in the Tweet Heard Round the World.