Social media breaks bin Laden news

How did you find out that Osama bin Laden had been killed?

Sohaib Athar tweeted about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound

Previous generations may have been used to hearing breaking news via word of mouth or the crackle of a portable radio. More recently, television programmes were interrupted and mobile phones went berserk in the wake of a major event.

But for millions of people around the country it was social media and not the mainstream press which broke the news of bin Laden’s death.

President Barack Obama’s television address took place in the middle of the night for all but the earliest risers in the UK, so most of us will have got wind of the news upon awaking from our lazy Bank Holiday Monday slumber.

I found out when I picked up my smartphone and began browsing my news feed on Facebook. Many of my friends had updated their status to comment on bin Laden’s death and I later joined in.

In the past word of mouth might have spread breaking news to everyone in the room, or even to someone on the end of a phone line. But social media has allowed us to reach more people than ever before, so one status update can be read by hundreds or even thousands of friends.

Perhaps if the news had broken during the daytime then more of us would have been watching television and flicked onto the rolling news channels, or even heard the details flashed over the radio.

But this felt like a news event truly broken over social media.

One tweeter in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad, where bin Laden was living, reported a helicopter flying over the area – little did Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual) know, but he was first at the scene of a major news event.

As the world’s eyes turned to Abbottabad, Sohaib realised that his tweet was going to get a lot more attention than he could have ever imagined. He tweeted: “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

Talk of what Barack’s news conference would be about spread like wildfire over Twitter. People in the US in particular were sat waiting for Obama to appear on the rolling news channels while joining in with a giant guessing game. What would the announcement be?

Those watching at home didn’t have to guess among themselves, many booted up their laptops and found out what informed experts had heard from their own trusted sources.

Once Obama had made the announcement, social media websites were awash with speedy analysis, delight and of course, wild conspiracy theories.

The first global news story to be broken on Twitter continues to rumble on.

But it has already taught us that if you want to keep right up to date with current affairs, you can now count social media alongside the usual news outlets.

Do you use social media to keep up with the news? Comment below…