Social Media Spreads the Biggest Story of the Year
By Jane Collins on May 12, 2011
It was the biggest news story this year, and it happened late on Sunday night May 1st 2011. A tidal wave of information and speculation ensued, as people learned that U.S. Navy Seals had killed the Al Qaeda terrorist Osama Bin Laden at a compound in Pakistan.
The next day, we started a poll on BlogHer.com to discover where people first heard about the astonishing story. The results were surprising and reveal how rapidly media consumption has changed over the past decade. Out of ten possible choices, social media platforms Facebook and Twitter topped the list for providing information about Bin Laden’s death to the BlogHer community.
“How did you first hear that terrorist Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. Special forces in Pakistan?”
Source: BlogHer.com Opinion Poll; Week of May 2, 2011, N = 131
The media coverage for this event was huge, as one would expect from the volume of interest in the U.S and around the globe. On the night of May 1st, all cable news channels focused on the story exclusively, and many broadcast networks changed their regular programming as well. I was reminded of the massive television coverage that took place nearly ten years ago on 9-11, when endless video from the falling Twin Towers in NY and the smoldering ruins of the Pentagon in D.C. made us all witnesses to Bin Laden’s mass murder of nearly 3,000 Americans. That catastrophe was, apparently, the most photographed and recorded news event in history.
This event however, unlike any other modern news story I can recall, gave social media a dominant role in spreading the word. Twitter reported an astounding 3,000 tweets per second as the story unfolded and a peak of 5,000 tweets per second while President Obama addressed the nation on TV. In fact, 28 million Twitter messages were sent in a three hour period on the night of May 1st, and many heard the story long before the President spoke on television. Facebook updates were on fire with the story as well. How extraordinary to consider that two online services, which didn’t even exist when the U.S. was attacked on 9-11, funneled the early messaging for Bin Laden’s demise. Traditional media became a way to catch up with the story, but social media was the pipeline to hear about it first. BlogHer’s poll shows a total of 60% saying they heard the news first on an online source (Facebook, Twitter, online news), while only 15% heard the story first from TV, and 4% from radio. Hammering another nail into the coffin for print media, zero percent said that they heard about the Bin Laden story by reading it in the newspaper the next day.
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