Trending Topic: #obl

Osama bin Laden’s death, aside from being heralded as a historically monumental occasion in itself, has also proven the power and immediate reach of social media.

Within twenty-four hours, social media channels exploded with activity.

The inadvertent live-Tweeter, Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual), who unknowingly recorded the moments of bin Laden’s death, reluctantly gained tens of thousands of followers.

“Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”

“and here come the mails from the mainstream media… *sigh*”

Athar’s accounts technically broke the news on Twitter before any journalistic speculation, or the announcement of Obama’s national address.

Trending topics on Twitter were 50 per cent Osama-Obama related on May 1, while Tweets per second reached all time highs. Before and after Obama’s speech, there were peaks of 5,000 Tweets being logged per second.

The real ‘biscuit’ was taken by user-added Google Map locations of ‘Osama Bin Laden Compound’. It’s still unknown who created the pins, and Google have yet to remove other falsely located pins. Allegedly, bin Laden himself was found by the US forces tracking one of his couriers for months, before the final stage of Operation Geronimo was carried out.

Since the announcement, however, worldwide Twitter trends have returned to their normal Justin Bieber related topics. Even #obl is no longer a Trending Topic in the United States. Given the shocking impact and global furore after the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001, it’s surprising that the social media trends and hubbub have not continued past the twenty-four hour mark.

While people can’t individually be expected to talk about the same topic incessantly (or remember to hash tag it), the drop in interest is dramatic. Athar’s Tweets proved the immediacy of social media, but popularity stakes equally show that it can swing the other way.

The Bieber-Tweeter demographic might be strong – and constant – but surely the global contingent interested in major world news is stronger? It would be easy to condemn social media for a ‘read-digest-discard’ attitude, but that’s all in the 160-character nature of Twitter. Does this back up the widespread feeling that bin Laden’s death won’t make much ‘difference’?