Tag Archives: bin laden death

New study on Twitter and Bin Laden death shows how news is done today

The death of Osama bin Laden is considered the biggest story told on Twitter. Now a new study by Georgia Tech and reported in Homeland Security Newswire provides insight into how news is done today, particularly the interplay of Twitter and mainstream media, in informing the world.

The study confirms the understanding the story broke on Twitter with tweets from Keith Urbahn, an aide to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. I don’t know why the study did not include the tweets from the next door neighbor of bin Laden in Abottabad who complained about the helicopters overhead and saying he was going to get out his giant fly swatter. Even though these were undoubtedly the first tweets about the incident, they did not inform of his death.

The interesting thing about this study applies to rumor management–the task that is now the number one priority of crisis communications. The team analyzed 400,000 tweets (using software, of course) and categorized them as “certain” or “uncertain.” That was a way of determining how confident the tweeter was of passing on info that considered to be true. They found that almost immediately 50% of the tweets were certain, meaning the tweeters had high confidence in the accuracy. This was well before there was any TV reports confirming the news.

Why? How could people be so certain of something so important and so subject to rumor? The researcher concluded this:

“We believe Twitter was so quick to trust the rumors because of who sent the first few tweets,” said Hu. “They came from reputable sources. It’s unlikely that a CBS News producer or New York Times reporter would spread rumors of something so important and risk jeopardizing their reputation. Twitter saw their credentials and quickly believed the news was true.”

So, it comes down to the credibility of the tweeter. Aristotle is still on target (he said of the three proofs in rhetoric, logic, emotion and credibility, the most important was credibility (ethos)).

It’s hard for me to believe, but it is clear that many in crisis communications continue to discount the role of Twitter in this field and in the news world overall. Technology is changing far faster than our minds can adapt to the changes. But this study makes it clear how important Twitter, and for that matter, other social media are in informing the world of important events. Yes, as in my previous post, new ways must be found to verify facts. But despite the technology and sea change, some important things never change and being completely believable is one of those.


The global village reaction to Bin Laden’s death

We’ve talked a lot about social media use in disasters, but the targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden is one of the first global news stories after social media has gained its prominence in sharing news. So it is interesting to watch its various uses. It is also interesting to see that the major news stories of some of the mainstream news media is about how social media was used to first announce the death (apparently an early tweet from Keith Urbahn who talked to a well-placed news producer. His tweet, I’m guessing was pretty speculative but turned out correct). Here is the NYT take on it, and the LA Times–both focusing a lot of coverage on how social media is being used as part of this story.

Actually, it appears the first word of the event came from tweets from a Pakistani IT consultant who lived near the Bin Laden compound. He tweeted about helicopters overhead, a big bang and gunfire. This confirms something we have been talking about for some time. As much as President Obama would have liked and certainly tried to control the news, eyewitnesses using social media will most certainly be first. It is virtually impossible when an event is visible at all to the public, even in Abottabad, Pakistan, to control the news. And the mainstream news media scrambles to keep up, report what is on the Internet and still try to play by the info control rules that the “official sources,” in this case the White House are trying to enforce. It was certainly interesting watching that play out on NBC, CNN and FOX last night.

As I write this the focus is on American’s celebration. But what I wonder about is the reaction of the rest of the world, particularly the Arab and Muslim world. A quick review shows a fairly muted response, some suspicion of whether the claims of his death are true, and some celebration in the Arab world.

The most profound meaning of the Internet as a means of enhancing communication around the globe is the facilitation of the global village. This event can show the global village at work as we can listen in on and participate in conversations with others whose views are very different from our own. It’s my hope that we use this important technology to increase our understanding of each other and that mutual trust and respect increases with this unprecedented communication capability. Not everyone in a small town is expected to agree or get along all the time. But most everyone senses when living in a close-knit community, that overall is better if we follow the advice that as far as it is possible with us, to live at peace with all.