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Culture & Religion

Bin Laden: How We Heard, How We Reacted

Osama Bin Laden’s death illustrates the power of social media to spread news, and fast, and to provide a window into reader reactions world-wide.

What’s the Latest Development?

A case study in how fast news spreads via social media. For many people, Obama wasn’t the first to break the Bin Laden news, those active on Twitter (and not sleeping at the time) first heard it there, “where it spread like wildfire.” Sheldon Levine first saw tweets about Bin Laden’s death about 10:30pm (EST). By about 10:45pm most TV channels had switched to cover it (fact-checking hampers the mainstream’s speed?), and by 11:30pm Obama had come on TV to tell the world. By 11.:45pm there were about 500,000 tweets on the topic and by 9:30am 2.2 million (and people were starting to joke about Foursquare helping locate Bid Laden).

What’s the Big Idea?

It’s not so much that it’s surprising how fast news spreads on social networks, more that this case is a clear illustration of it. It is also shows the potential of social networks to gauge what Americans think of Osama bin Laden’s death. The first reaction seemed to be shock (“omg”), then celebration, then temperance. “Overall, the range of responses has been overwhelmingly positive, even among people who disagree politically with President Obama and his approach to combating terrorism.”


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