Why was the CIA tweeting about the Osama bin Laden raid?

The Central Intelligence Agency spent six hours Sunday reliving the Osama bin Laden raid on Twitter. Why? 

David Loh/Reuters/File
A computer screen showed the Twitter page of Sohaib Athar from May 2, 2011. Mr. Athar had tweeted that a loud bang had rattled his windows in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad. A few hours later he posted another tweet: 'Uh oh, now I'm the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.' On the five-year anniversary of the raid, the CIA reenacted the raid on Twitter.

The US Central Intelligence Agency promised to "live tweet" its followers on Sunday, May 1, 2016, in order to mark the "success" in the capture and demise of Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011.

Indeed, the CIA engaged in a slew of tweets for six straight hours, detailing the capture of the bin Laden, mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

CIA spokesperson, Ryan Trampani, said the purpose of rehashing of events on Twitter was "to remember the day and honor all those who had a hand in this achievement."

For some, this tweet did just that as people tweeted their admiration of military service personnel. Musician and radio jockey, Toby Knapp tweeted, "Watching the @CIA relive on Twitter the #UBLRaid today reminds me of how proud I am of the men and women who do what they do. Thank you."

Many of the CIA Twitter account's 1.3 million followers, were not amused by the CIA's six-hour Twitterfest. 

The main criticism was that the tweeting spree's intention was self-serving with no purpose other than to sell its success, The Washington Post reported. Instead of providing real-time coverage of an event as it is occurring – the definition of live tweeting – the CIA simulated live tweeting of bin Laden's death from five years ago. 

Mr. Trampani underlined the five-year-old news development when he said that, "the take-down of bin Laden stands as one of the greatest intelligence successes of all time," and is part of CIA history – the past. He also said that the agency is utilizing Twitter as a way to record and publicize history, as opposed to current news developments. After all, the CIA must retain a level of veiled secrecy in order to operate effectively. 

Social media platforms are conduits for expressing an increasing mistrust between government bodies and constituents, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. "Technology has become a major facilitator to express disenchantment," among the 60 percent of OECD countries that attest to mistrusting their government.

Often, the expression of such discontent on social media has surpassed government agencies' ability to harness the criticism constructively.

Carolyn Reams, the CIA's social media manager, has a reputation for launching social media stunts that range from cat photos to untimely tweets playing off of current events, according to The Washington Post. For example, in the immediate aftermath of Islamice State-empathizers hacking the US military's Central Command Twitter profile, the CIA tweeted in Russian, causing people to believe another hack had occurred.

That was the goal, Ms. Reams later confessed. The idea was to draw attention to a previous tweet, rehashing the CIA's historic role in the cold war, according to Quartz.

The CIA introduced its Twitter presence as something that cannot necessarily be trusted, despite social media platforms often used as as a means of building trust and accountability by government agencies and corporations.

From the start, the CIA has often had a tongue-in-cheek tone to its tweets. The spy agency's first tweet, in 2014, struck many as having a haughty, patronizing tone: "We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet." 

But former CIA employee, Emily Brandwin, however, described the infamous first tweet as "a surprisingly pitch-perfect blend of clandestine seriousness and knowing smarminess." She was less impressed by the tweets that followed, declaring that "the CIA does not need to be on Twitter, because it can't be transparent."

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