Twitter and the killing of Bin Laden

This is a note on 10 ways in which Twitter was used during the coverage of the killing of Bin Laden based on conversations with Myra MacDonald of the 'Pakistan Now or Never' blog. It was presented to attendees of the Thomson Reuters Foundation EditorialTraining Week on May 16th, 2011.


  1. 1. Eyewitness news reporting
    A local resident found himself inadvertently live tweeting the storming of the compound

  2. For a detailed analysis of how ReallyVirtual's tweet got picked up and amplified around Twitter see this Poynter analysis.
  3. 2. Official announcements
    Officials used Twitter to announce that there'd be an unusually late public statement by Obama

  4. 3. Collective problem-solving 
    The announcement of the Obama statement prompted feverish speculation as to what was going on. Amid the Twitter brain-storming the name of Bin Laden surfaced. The following exchange between Michael Cohen of the American Security Project and Forbes blogger Elmira Bayrasli is one of several documented by SocialFlow:

  5. 4. The viral nature of tweeting
    Amid all the speculation, a thinly sourced tweet from Donald Rumsfeld's former chief of staff had just enough plausibility to go viral despite his limited following of a thousand or so. 

  6. Within a minute there were 80 reactions to the tweet, including from Brian Stelter -- a New York Times writer with 50,000 followers.
  7. 5. A medium for instant expert views

    The role of Twitter in surfacing news is well established. Its role in allowing experts to get their views out quickly is less discussed but arguably as important. 

  8. @allthingsct provides running commentary on Al Qaeda from Australia. 
  9. Leah Farrall was the first to question the U.S. version that bin Laden was actively directing operations from his "command and control" centre in Abbottabad.