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Twitter has proved itself to have far more power and reach than just the 140 characters bursts it allows. Many global events and issues have also become “Twitter events” thanks to the reach and power of the microblogging site.
The death of Osama Bin Laden, after a “targeted bombing raid” as US officials put it, by US forces in Pakistan on Sunday night was the same, and more.
Branded as the world’s most wanted criminal with a US$25-million bounty on his head, Bin Laden was an ongoing covert operation. Any plans of capture or assassination of the world’s most wanted would undoubtedly the best kept secret. However, if you happened to follow one Sohaib Athar, a Pakistani IT consultant who according his Twitter bio is “taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptop”, you had a virtual front-seat to Bin Laden’s eventual demise.
Keith Urbahn, former US Secretary of Defence’s current Chief of Staff, tweeted, in what is being referred to as the tweet that broke the story, some 20 minutes before traditional media outlets picked it up.
However, seven hours before that Athar had tweeted,
For a full timeline of Athar’s tweets, see here.
Athar in the small Pakistani town of Abbottabad, irritated by this helicopter, which — in what became a running gag — he threatened to get rid of with his “giant swatter” began tweeting about it. What followed was his not knowing what was going on, essentially and very humorously, live-tweeting the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Athar was ignorant of his part in one of the biggest covert missions to date until much later when it was announced that President Obama would be making an announcement. Though the media has dubbed Athar as the man who “unwittingly” tweeted this event, Athar has had his own sharp reply to that:
The most well known example of Twitter “scooping” traditional media is when a US Airways flight crash-landed onto New York’s Hudson River and immediately pictures flooded the Twitter-sphere. But, that happened in New York, in the middle of the day. It would have been more of a story had it not been tweeted.
However, this was in a small town in Pakistan, where a man who had successfully evaded the world’s largest military for almost a decade had decided was a safe hiding place. In that small town in Pakistan Twitter had it’s own presence. We don’t know, nor can we say if Twitter will be as momentous as the printing press. Perhaps it will just end up being forgotten in the footnotes of how the internet as a whole changed the media industry.
The death of Bin Laden will undoubtedly be one of the biggest stories of 2011 and it happened on Twitter.