Bin Laden is dead: Twitter buzzes
“This is actually Twitter’s defining moment.”
That’s what I tweeted on Sunday evening as I watched the news unfold about the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden…on Twitter, which didn’t even exist when the hunt for the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks began nearly a decade ago.
I was sitting in my home office, helping my husband file our, um, overdue taxes when I noticed a Tweet from Reuters at 21:54 ET that the president would “make a statement shortly.”
I’m not sure if Reuters was first, but we were definitely early. Other news organizations began reporting an Obama statement. Within 10 minutes, the Twittersphere was in a tizzy. Musings included the death of Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi or something “relating to national security.” Others joked that the president was making an announcement simply to interrupt Donald Trump’s show “The Apprentice.”
But plenty of folks predicted that Osama bin Laden was dead. The first reliable report came from Keith Urbahn, Donald Rumsfeld’s spokesman. It took more than an hour for President Obama to speak to nation, well past the reported 22:30 ET address. (And reporters get busted for missing deadlines?) But, by then, we all knew the news.
And that’s why I think this is Twitter’s shining moment. Sure, Twitter has been a valuable tool as we watch the news in Iran, Egypt, Libya, Japan and so many other hot spots. It’s also useful for forming flash mobs — there are crowds forming outside of the White House and the World Trade Center site as I type this. (Twitter is also essential if you need to complain to an airline.)
Yet the first time I had a sense that Twitter would change journalism was on June 25, 2009. That’s the day Michael Jackson died, and by filtering Tweets from places such as TMZ and the Los Angeles Times, I watched the story unfold on Twitter. That’s when I got hooked.
Crowd-sourced news is fresh and viral, but it is far from perfect. It can be messy, snarky and definitely erroneous. Tonight I saw a flurry of Tweets that the New York Times confirmed bin Laden’s death, minutes before it actually did.
Some other notable Tweets on the day we learned that bin Laden died:
The New York Post had this not-so-subtle Tweet: “WE GOT THE BASTARD. BREAKING: OSAMA BIN LADEN DEAD.”
Henry Blodget of Business Insider used his powerful perch to pick on CNN — he didn’t like Wolf Blitzer’s coverage. “CNN is pathetic.”
Kurt Soller: “Twitter is amazing at times like this, for offering a combo of news, comedy, and failed attempts at both.”
I asked Antony De Rosa, social media guru and a Reuters colleague, what he thinks: “Twitter keeps having moments,” he told me in a private message…on Twitter. “Iran was the first big international moment, then Egypt, but the first reliable report of (Osama bin Laden’s) death on Twitter is the biggest yet.”
I also turned to social media guru Jeff Jarvis for insight. He is an associate professor at CUNY and a blogger at BuzzMachine, which he started after 9/11. “Twitter has had many defining moments,” Jarvis told me in an email. “This is another. What is special this time: we want to reach out and be together. Twitter enables that. The old definition of a shared national experience was watching TV at the same time. This shared experience is happening with TV in the background. The Internet is our connection machine and Twitter is the new Times Square.”
Jarvis clearly liked what he had to say to me. A few minutes after this email arrived, guess what he tweeted? “Twitter is our Times Square on this victory day.”
What do you think? Is Twitter changing the way we break and consume news? Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @LaurenYoung