Twitter is the New AP: News of Osama bin Laden's Death Breaks on Twitter Before Major News Sources

Twitter is the New AP: News of Osama bin Laden's Death Breaks on Twitter Before Major News Sources

Barack addressing nation.jpg

President Obama addresses nation over death of Osama bin Laden

Yesterday, May 1, 2011 at 10:36 p.m. EST, the 44th President of the United States of America, Barack Hussein Obama, made an announcement of historic proportions. President Obama confidently walked up to the podium and relayed to the world that its most wanted man and chief terrorist leader, Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, had been killed by U.S. Navy Seals under the Joint Special Operations Command forces in the resort town of Abbottabad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.

    Osama bin Laden

    As more details surface about the most impressive covert operation in history, what will stand prominently in the background of the historic event will be the coverage of the event itself. Before CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox News, Associated Press, Reuters, or any other major news reporting service ever broke the story of Osama bin Laden's death or the President's announcement of bin Laden's death, Twitter, the 140 character microblogging site, lit up like a switchboard once the first rumor of bin Laden's death was uttered from one invidual to another.

    The incredible drama began with a White House announcement shortly after 10:00 p.m. EST that the President would address the nation on matters concerning national security.
    Twitter's impact was immediate. The first reliable source came from Keith Urbahn, spokesman for former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld who served under George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006.
    After Urbahn's tweet, networks began flashing alerts to its viewers that the President would make an important statement to the country addressing national security. Urbahn's tweet became viral - it was retweeted hundreds thousands of times. Celebrities, athletes, and other public figures began commenting on the impending announcment. Tensions heightened. It appeared as if everyone knew what was about to be announced before it was announced. Minutes later, major networks began to report that the statement by the President would address the death of Osama Bin Laden. First CBS, then Fox News and then NBC. 

    The New York Times became the first major newspaper online to report Osama bin Laden's death. Reuters followed suit, and CNN finally reported, including first details of the operation.

    Twitter continued to lead information reporting even after news of bin Laden's death. Tweets mentioning May 1st as the anniversary of Great Britain announcing the death of Adolf Hitler as well as the 8th anniversary of "Mission Accomplished' by former President George W. Bush came out hours before any major new source posted such extremely valuable information.

    The explosion of reports of Osama bin Laden's death on Twitter forced major networks to "break" the news before the President addressed the American public. "Breaking News" does not have the same ring to it as it did before. With a worldwide community connected by social networks, including sources of news themselves, mainstream media is now in the catch up business to report major news stories. Osama bin Laden death shows the dynamic of news reporting has changed for good. One thing is for sure: Twitter is the new Associated Press.

    Exavier B. Pope, Esq. is an entertainment/sports and corporate attorney and a legal blogger for Chicago Now. All opinions expressed are solely those of Mr. Pope.

    (c) 2011 Exavier B. Pope, Esq.


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    • "Twitter is the thing with all the tweets. Your friends stay in touch but never meet." Or something like that.

      That's probably all it is good for. I'm sure that it didn't help the mission that someone in Abbottabad was tweeting, too.

      While these sources seemed somewhat reliable, everything is leaked before a press conference. That's the purpose of press packets. Why else would Geraldo come in late Sunday night? (BTW, Fox News picked up by 32.1 did a spectacularly crummy job, including running a 4 x 3 and 16 x 9 frame for a while. I switched to CBS where there was some insight from Lara Logan, even though Russ Mitchell kept saying "President Obama was supposed to come out 33, 44, 57 minutes ago.")

      I thought that by mentioning the AP you were going to go into that the AP is virtually worthless--most of their articles show no comprehension of law, economics, historical context or the like. I see that the Tribune picked up Reuters, but it seemed like Reuters was giving the Egyptian viewpoint of the situation. It is sad what mainstream "journalism" has become.

    • In reply to jack:

      Information my be "leaked", but prior to Twitter it was never "leaked" to the public. News outlets reported the news first. On May 1, 2011, the tail wagged the dog.

    • In reply to exavierpope:

      Twitter doesn't get everything first. Expanding on your hypothetical, considering the traffic copters in any major city, if they hadn't seen the planes (especially the second one) go into the towers on 9/11 first, it would have been real strange if someone broke the story by tweeting while running toward Battery Park.

      Maybe the more amazing thing is the report this morning that Congress was briefed about the operation, maybe months ago, and none leaked. It appears that for all the posturing jerks there, they are at least responsible when it comes to national security.

      Of course, as I implied in the last paragraph of my first post, that doesn't mean that I don't recognize that the "media" manipulates the news. However, as the "Dan Rather Bush National Guard Evaluation letter supposedly typed in the late 70s using Microsoft Word," and the "Acorn is just a blog and Fox News story" episodes, it takes more than a tweet, especially, in the first case, a blogger posting the letter. The newspapers weren't going to do it on their own.

    • In reply to jack:

      This article does not presuppose Twitter "gets" anything first. There are plenty of newsworthy items that never see the light of day on Twitter, or least in the widely known "trending" sense. However, many major stories pick up steam on Twitter as far as mainstream society's collective conscious is concerned.

      We can only imagine what Twitter would have been like on 9/11.

    • In reply to exavierpope:

      Considering that on 9/11, when I was in the office, just about any news site was reporting connection problems due to the overload, I doubt that Twitter could have picked up much of anything.

      Unless you are also wondering if bandwidth then would have been like bandwidth now.

      As far as presupposing, what I got out of the original post is that you said Twitter got this first. One also has to wonder whether Urbahn's tweet was the cause of the media picking it up, or, as the post also indicates, that Obama had announced at about 10 EST that he would be in the East Room.

    • No question

    • AP is a news agency that verifies stories. Twitter is a megaphone that any idiot can pick up and shout random lies if they so wish. Journalism is dying and we are in the full throes of a post-literate society.

    • In reply to IrishBearsFan:

      There are good and bad uses of Twitter. Some information that may be of use to the public may never get out but for the Twitter community demanding it be so....then it is reported. There is a checks and balance system with Twitter - valid stories praise Twitter for breaking it first, bogus ones are ridiculed.

    • Thank you for contributing. I think the main purpose of this article was to point out that "Breaking News" happens practically real time from a source not created for news purposes. Obviously this is dangerous because not everything that "breaks" from Twitter has been authenticated or verified. A perfect example of this would be the obviously bogus photo of a dead Osama bin Laden. Years ago the picture would have have never been widely distributed (it is not even a good fake).

      We live 24/7 news cycle. With the new world we live in, Twitter makes people feel connected and involved in what is going on in the world, good or bad. We the People are the writers of history now, not journalists, literate or not.

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