US Reacts to Death of Osama bin Laden Both Online and Off

We’ve witnessed the power of social media to communicate breaking news and gather the masses many times this year.  Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya have all had major revolutionary gatherings organized through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools.  On Sunday night, I witnessed the power of social media to quickly convert online news to an offline event when the death of Osama bin Laden was announced by President Obama. I will immediately preface this post by saying that I in no way mean to compare this event to the magnitude of the revolutionary events that have taken place over the past few months, but rather to communicate how excited and impressed I was to witness what was essentially a flash mob of thousands in the streets of Boston.

As a news event, the entire episode can be traced on a complete social media timely through Twitter.  In fact, a man in Pakistan unknowingly live-tweeted the raid carried out by US Forces hours before any announcement was made.

The news of bin Laden’s death spread like wildfire on Twitter – according to a Mashable survey conducted on Monday, 31% of respondents found out about the announcement via Twitter. At 10:24 p.m., Donald Rumsfeld’s Chief of Staff tweeted:

Seven minutes later, a speech announcement went out via the President’s Twitter account:

The official tweet from The White House went out at 11:35 p.m., shortly after the President’s speech began:

The event sparked the highest rate of Twitter activity in history over one event – a record 12.4 million tweets per hour.  That’s over 4,000 tweets per second! With so much coverage and excitement around the announcement, what happened next should come as no surprise.

Living near Kenmore square, I was witness to the beginning of a huge gathering of local students who descended on Boston Common to celebrate the announcement.  Similar gatherings had already begun in New York and Washington, DC and were being covered by national news. As soon as the speech ended, I started to hear loud chanting outside and, looking out on Commonwealth Avenue, saw droves of students en masse walking and even running towards Boston Common. There were loud cheers and American flags everywhere.  Within minutes, the Boston Police had blocked off a few of the surrounding streets and schools sent in shuttle buses in anticipation of the need to return students later.
The crowd arrived at Boston Common 5,000 strong and continued on chanting and singing – at one point, the entire group sang “The Star Spangled Banner”.


The crowd stayed for a few hours in the Boston Common area, and Tweets continued well into the morning.

What did you think about the online and offline reaction to this event – does it surprise you? Did you get your information from Twitter as it happened? Please share your comments in the section below!

-Halley Sheffield, 451 Marketing Manager

Halley Sheffield

Halley Sheffield is the Director of Marketing at 451 Marketing @halleyalice

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