Last updated: May 3, 2011 - 9:01am
When the White House abruptly announced an address to the nation by President Obama on Sunday night, CNN anchors spent the better part of an hour previewing the address without actually saying what it was about. Thanks to Twitter and Facebook, some CNN watchers had already heard the news.
Unconfirmed reports — that turned out to be true — of Osama bin Laden’s demise circulated widely on social media for about 20 minutes before the anchors of the major broadcast and cable networks reported news of the raid at 10:45 p.m., about an hour before President Obama’s address from the White House. It was another example of how social media and traditional media deal with the same news in different ways and at different speeds. Just as CNN once challenged newspapers and evening newscasts with a constant stream of images from the Persian Gulf war, Twitter and Facebook have become early warning systems for breaking news — albeit not always reliable ones. Twitter saw the highest sustained rate of posts ever, with an average of 3,440 per second from 10:45 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Eastern time. There were more than five million mentions of Bin Laden on Facebook in the United States alone, as news of the raid at his hideout spread starting around 10:30 p.m. A new Facebook page titled “Osama bin Laden Is Dead” popped up for people to begin sharing their thoughts. It had more than 400,000 fans on Monday. (A second page, “Osama bin Laden Is Not Dead,” soon followed.) Text messages and social networks did not only help people get and spread the news about Bin Laden’s death, but they also helped people absorb it, spurring impromptu gatherings at ground zero and outside the White House.
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