The Social Impact Of Bin Laden’s Assassination

Filed as Editorial on May 3, 2011 3:56 am

Late Sunday evening my Facebook news stream was bombarded with posts exclaiming Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed. An elite operation that required tactical precision took out Bin Laden and his supporters over the course of minutes. The raid was live streamed to the President and his cabinet but a very different picture unfolded over Twitter.

Around 1 AM as a US helicopter closed in on Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, an IT consultant some miles away live Tweeted the entire raid unaware of what was really going on. Sohaib Athar under his handle @ReallyVirtual Tweeted that a helicopter was hovering around the area and later crashed from gun fire.

It would take another few hours for the impact of what happened to reach Athar but his name quickly spread like wildfire for live Tweeting the assassination of Bin Laden and the aftermath. Athar’s Tweets gave everyone a new perspective of the raid that transcended jubilant praise and analysis from news anchors and took viewers to the local’s reaction which ranged from confusion to celebration.

The operation had created a significant impact on the Internet and was a trending topic across Twitter. News of the raid and the White House’s following responses were retweeted and regurgitated across Facebook and Twitter multiple sources confirmed Bin Laden’s assassination. The height of the buzz came around Obama’s speech which officially confirmed the success of the military operation. Over 4,000 Tweets were generated per second. An image released by Twitter reveals the impact the news made on Twitter.

The last major assassination of a threat deemed significant by the US was Saddam Hussein in late 2003. Twitter had yet to be conceived and it would be months before Facebook would be launched. The fallout of Hussein’s capture was extraordinary as news outlets reported Hussein’s eventual capture but today the Internet plays a more significant role than it did almost 8 years ago. Social Media gives us access to realtime events and gave us an up-front view in to the raid against Bin Laden and the eventual impact his assassination made online.

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