News of Bin Laden’s Death Brings Another Defining Moment for Twitter

It looks like we’ve got another “Where Were You When…” moment. Where were you when you heard Osama Bin Laden had been killed. For millions of us, the answer is: Twitter.

The micro-blogging site had a defining moment yesterday. First there were a few Tweets that President Obama was set to make an announcement and some wondered what it was about and others complained it was going to interrupt their TV watching plans.

When it became clear how rare this announcement was to be, the speculation Tweets kicked into high gear. Libya? China? Gas Prices? Aliens?

Some did suspect that it was Osama Bin Laden related and that notion caught like wildfire. The mainstream media outlets could only say something big national security wise was on the horizon, but that’s it.

My Twitterfeed was frenetic. I stopped Tweeting and started ReTweeting and finally I just sat back and watched it unfold. It made me wonder, how can mainstream media win the race to be first to share information when it’s going up against something like Twitter?

By the time President Obama made the announcement, it felt like old news. Yeah, yeah, we know Osama Bin Laden is dead. Now tell us the details.

Of course all the details can’t fit into 140 characters and that’s where the starkest distinction between crowd-sourced-information-spreading and mainstream media lies.

With micro-blogging and blurred lines of expectations, the information game has drastically changed. Into what? I don’t know, but I do know that having TweetDeck up on my laptop and CNN on my big screen TV was like looking at the difference between a typewriter and an iPad.

12 responses to “News of Bin Laden’s Death Brings Another Defining Moment for Twitter

  1. Definitely one of those “I remember where I was” moments! I had the exact same experience you did last night on Twitter. It was fascinating! Truly a defining moment for Twitter, social media, and this generation.

    • Agreed, it was a defining moment for social media and this generation. For the younger people who were in middle school when the twin towers fell, many of them today have talked about how news of his death gave them some closure since Sept. 11 was somewhat the loss of their innocence.

  2. We were just leaving a BBQ. It was a gorgeous evening, so no one was really looking at their phones. I hopped in the car around 9pm PST, checked Twitter, and Bam! There it was. The president had already spoken.

    I was glad that I got the news a little late and didn’t have to parse through all the speculative Tweets. After all these years of using social media, I checked the NYT to make sure it was actually true.

    • Hi Mike! I love that you checked NYT to make sure it was true. (I would have preferred had you checked AP first, but alas. ;-P) I find it interesting that while the media is used to being first, they no longer can be first to deliver the news, but Twitter can get kudos for beating mainstream media. However, Twitter is also forgiven quite easily when it’s wrong. I’m not saying the media should be held to a lower accountability, but I can remember holding off on telling the world some breaking news because we wanted to triple check that we got it right. Our integrity sets us apart and we can’t compromise that.

  3. Exactly. And Twitter was FAR more entertaining. It’s powerful when people all over the world (like that guy IN Abbottabad!) and in high level positions in government can tweet what they know without waiting on the media to arrive. It’s amazing to me that I caught that first tweet from Rummy’s staffer a mere three minutes after he said it. That’s wildfire news spread.

    • Oh I know!!! The guy in Abbottabad was a stunning development. And I also caught Rummy’s staffer’s tweet. It was RT’ed so much, I think of it as a game-changer in the course of the Tweets last night. Fun, fun stuff!

  4. I was on Facebook and it was the same. Of course then we had to stay up to watch the actual speech. Whatever the way the news was delivered, it was grand.

    The one thing that worries me about “twitter news” is accuracy. With things coming out so fast and furious, how long are they taking to verify the accuracy of the information. It seems like an easy way to disseminate a lot of stuff that really isn’t true.

    • You are right. Twitter “news” can’t be accurate because a lot of it is rumor or innuendo. I mean how many people have been falsely reported dead on Twitter? There’s at least one a month and since it’s just regular people Tweeting, there’s no verification efforts ya know? I think that’s why the best thing to do is take what you find out from Twitter with a grain of salt, but for the reputable news agencies, they still hold by the same journalism tenets even in their tweets.

  5. I too subscribe with Melanie’s manner of consumption – sitting in front of tv with laptop open contemporaneously. Accuracy is a problem for tv, also. Twitter is remarkably fast (and often loose) with the information. Is the information good and true? Melanie is a well-pedigreed news pro with filters in who she follows. What journalistic screens are in place for the average news media consumer? Many of us tuned in to traditional MSM for the Press Conference on television. That announcement would render completely different in a series of Tweets. Next time there is a major sport event or Academy Award type of broadcast try utilizing both tv and twitter. It is an immersive experience. Great post Melanie!

    • Thanks for the compliments Jay and you raise a good point that I hadn’t thought about. How do you know whose Tweets to trust? I obviously follow my friends in the industry and other people that I know whose principles are similar to my own when it comes to information dissemination. But what about Joe Blow? I suppose many people follow news organizations as well. I know I kept visiting @AP last night in case I missed their Tweets in my feed.

      I love watching TV and Tweeting. I use the hashtag of the show I’m watching and sometimes it’s a lot of fun, reminds me of the days when I was in middle school and I’d watch TV with a friend on the phone and we’d comment on what was happening.

  6. Great lead on this post with an even more profound conclusion. A very poignant post from a woman-who-knows and a brilliant writer. Jason had a good question though, and I wonder what your thoughts might be: Who are the regular Twitter users, and why is it mostly journalistic-types who favor it? I don’t know the answer to this, but it seems it is somewhere in the unfolding of last night’s news. What say ye?

    • Awww shucks Bree, thanks lady! You too are one smart, talented cookie. Honestly I never thought of Twitter as something journalistic types favor. I (obviously) don’t know a huge swatch of the Twitterverse, but from what I’ve seen it takes all kinds. From very cerebral types, to people who sound like thugs, to sex kittens to health nuts to celebs. The crap that is out there is massive, in my small circle of Tweeters they’re mostly newsy folks or mommy folks (I have two Twitter accounts and use them both daily. One is more serious that the other.)

      I never thought this was possible, but I’ve actually made some pretty good friends over Twitter. And a few relationships have started in the Tweetdom. I supposed I could go on and on about all the minutiae of Twitter, but there were certain revelations of our social media fabric that came about last night and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all develops. Not sure that’s an answer to your question, but it’s what I gotz. 🙂

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