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Twitter proves its worth with bin Laden coverage

Joe Podelco / Photo editor

In 50 years, when I look back at the historical moment that was President Barack Obama announcing the death of Osama bin Laden, three things will come to mind for me: the president’s speech, the spontaneous celebrations that commenced on campus and, most of all, Twitter.

Sometimes, it takes an event with the magnitude of Sunday night’s announcement to make us realize and understand the potential of new technology around us, and that’s exactly what bin Laden’s death did.

I first learned that Obama would be unexpectedly addressing the nation on Sunday night thanks to various tweets that appeared on my Twitter timeline about a half-hour before his announced 10:30 p.m. speech was scheduled to begin. Most of the tweets weren’t serious in nature, suggesting the Obama was announcing alien attacks or a venture into a stand-up comedy career thanks to his speech at the White House correspondent’s dinner a night earlier. However, others also noted the unusualness of the President of the United States addressing the nation at such a late hour on a Sunday evening.

Then the news of bin Laden’s death broke, and it broke on Twitter, as Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, posted, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”

History will show that arguably the biggest news in our country since Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003 wasn’t broken by a major news outlet, but was instead first announced by a well-connected source who we had direct access to thanks to the developments of social media.

I first learned of bin Laden’s death thanks to a Facebook post by The Lantern’s editor-in-chief Zack Meisel that stated “Jack Bauer had to disappear after Season 8 of 24, and now we captured/killed bin Laden? Coincidence? I think not…”

Meisel’s joking Facebook status obviously wasn’t enough for me to believe that bin Laden had in fact been killed, but instead of turning on CNN or searching for the news on Google for confirmation, as I would have a mere five years ago, I instead simply entered “bin Laden” into my Twitter search bar, where hundreds of tweets per second popped up reacting to Urbahn’s tweet and growing speculation.

Although it is noteworthy that news of bin Laden’s death broke on Twitter, it seems like a fake celebrity death trends on Twitter daily. Tweets don’t have the credibility to be a reliable news source (and they never will), but what really showed the power of social media on Sunday night was the reaction to the news when major news outlets confirmed bin Laden’s death almost a half-hour later.

As the news of bin Laden’s death spread, it was hard to blink without a new tweet popping up with reaction to the news.

On Sunday, Twitter was no longer just a narcissistic way for people to let people who don’t care know what they’re doing, but was instead a news ticker with instant reaction to the news being displayed in real time.

Every angle of the bin Laden death was explored via Twitter on Sunday night. Tweets were posted supporting our troops.

Tweets were posted making jokes about how bin Laden was captured and how former President George W. Bush was feeling. Tweets were posted about the effect that the news could have on gas prices and airport security.

On Sunday night, Twitter gave its users access to information, commentary, jokes, speculation and patriotism.

There will always be dangers of social media and new technology, but on Sunday we got a glimpse at just how great they can be when used properly.

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