On a special CBS evening news report last night, Katie Couric and her team reported on the monumental death of Osama bin Laden and how social media has become the predominant outlet for people to use when news breaks.
In fact, the person who leaked the first mention of the news, Sohaib Athar, wasn’t even aware of what he was tweeting about. Couric reported that a computer programmer in Pakistan was so startled to see a helicopter hovering over his town that he went on Twitter to tell the world. What he didn’t realize, however, was that he was actually witnessing the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.
The first real mention of the news, stating that Osama bin Laden was dead, came from Keith Urbahn, Chief of Staff for former U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, an hour before the President’s address. Urbahn tweeted, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”
In an interview with Jamie Weinstein on The Daily Caller, Urbahn answered a question about the changing media landscape, given the fact that he broke the news of bin Laden’s death on Twitter, saying, “Twitter and the blogosphere in general are great democratizers — allowing anyone to share views, news and information without having to go through a filter. On the whole I think that is a good thing. Obviously the days of three networks and an evening newspaper managing information are over.”
Whether over or not, social media is certainly changing the way news reaches the public. And, while there is reason to believe social media may be traditional media’s saving grace with its potential to leak false news and lose users’ trust, the overwhelming popularity of social media means it’s here to stay and will be a driving factor in breaking news from here on out. Indeed, once Urbahn broke the news, word spread like wild fire via social networks. For almost three and a half hours, Twitter averaged around 3,000 tweets per second – the highest sustained traffic the social network has ever seen!
Thanks to tweets and Facebook status updates, the news went viral in practically no time at all, and that’s how celebrating citizens in NYC knew to gather at Ground Zero and congregate at the White House in Washington D.C. The chants of “U.S.A.” even reached the crowd at the Phillies-Mets baseball game as fans got the news on their smartphones.
The simple fact of the matter is, people need a place to go when news of this magnitude brakes, and social media has provided that outlet. Twitter, Facebook and the like give people a place to publically share not only what’s going on, but how they feel about it and other personal sentiments that are often absent from traditional media.