Tweets, Check-Ins & Memes Oh My! How Osama Bin Laden’s Death Unfolded in Social Media Land

September 11, 2001. My friend Kristen calls me in the morning in a panic. “Go turn on the news! Two planes just crashed in to the Twin Towers!” I was still in bed, trying to pry my eyes open. “What? You’re kidding me.” I didn’t believe her.Sure enough, when I turned on the television, every news station confirmed that Kristen couldn’t have been more serious.

May 2, 2011. Monday morning. I arrive at the office, turn on my computer, and my co-worker Jason sends me this via Messenger:


“What!? Osama is dead???”

I share these two personal anecdotes with you not to reveal how out of the loop I felt when not hearing about these breaking news stories sooner, but rather how I heard about them. In both cases it was through someone I knew.

But in 2001, news of the World Trade Center attacks was being disseminated mainly through television and newspapers. Ten years later, the Internetz, and I do specify Internetz as “the amalgamation of all net-based media” was unfolding the demise of America’s Public Enemy No. 1 way before the mainstream media even had any concrete details to report.

Not, only that. I didn’t find out Osama was dead through Twitter or Facebook, like so many of my fellow social medialites did. I found out through a freaking meme! (And a pretty fantastic one at that.)

Where were you when you heard about these events?

In this post, I will break down how the death of Osama bin Laden unfolded on social media sites. From a Tweeter in Abbottabad leaking news about the Bin Laden raid unknowingly, to people using Foursquare to Check-In to places in a post-Osamalyptic world, here’s a look at the progression of tweets, check-ins, memes and how the overall Internet frenzy took off at the onset of Osama’s death.

How People Found Out About Osama Bin Laden’s Death:


Twitter strikes again! With over 6k of votes, people used Twitter more than Facebook to share information on the Osama raid.

How Osama’s Demise Unfolded on Twitter

With over 12.4 million tweets per hour, the news of Osama bin Laden’s death set a new record for Twitter: “The highest sustained rate of Tweets ever”. The popular microblogging site announced that from 10:45pm – 2:20am ET, there was an average of 3,000 tweets per second. Here is a timeline of Osama-related tweets before President Obama announced his death.

May 1. 15:58 PM ET. Sohaib Athar a.k.a. @ReallyVirtual unknowingly live-tweets the raid targeting Osama bin Laden
Sohaib Athar, an IT consultant living in Abbottabad , inadvertently tweeted details of the US-led operation to bring down terrorist Osama bin Laden as it happened. He quickly became Pakistan’s first Twitter user to surpass 100,000 followers. [CNET]


9:47 PM ET. Dan Pfeiffer Communications director for the White House, tweets an announcement about President Obama’s national address scheduled at 10:30 pm.

10:24 PM ET. Dwayne Johnson “The Rock” tweets “Just got word that will shock the world”

Yup. Wrestler/Fast Five movie star “The Rock” knew before any major network that Osama bin Laden was toast. Thanks to his cousin who is a Navy SEAL.

10:25 PM ET. Keith Urbahn (not the country singer) first to tweet Osama is Dead

Keith Urbahn, the 27-year-old Chief of Staff for Donald Rumsfeld was the first to claim Osama was dead. He wrote later, “My source was a connected network TV news producer”. This was said in defense to the role and power of mainstream media, diffusing claims that Twitter is the end all of news. CBS news producer Jill Scott then confirmed the rumor shortly afterward in a tweet that said, “House Intelligence committee aide confirms that Osama Bin Laden is dead. U.S. has the body.”

11:35 p.m. ET. The White House confirms, virtually, that Osama is dead

The White House tweeted that the US conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden. This was shortly after President Obama spoke the words during a live statement.

Media Obama/Osama Mix-ups

In the rush to be the first to report Osama’s death, mainstream media outlets like CNN, Fox and MSNBC were all guilty of confusing the name of the United States president with that of the country’s nemesis.

Thanks to video sharing sites like YouTube these major gaffes were caught and made widely accessible for the whole world to see.

CNN: “Inside Obama’s Compound”

Fox: “President Obama is in fact dead”

Oh Fox, you’ve really done it this time…

MSNBC: Norah O’Donnell tweets “Obama shot and killed”


For more lulz, please refer to this news bloopers mash-up of all the news outlets that accidentally reported the death of “Obama” again and again…


Facebook page goes viral: Osama Bin Laden is Dead


A Facebook Page titled “Osama Bin Laden is DEAD” got over 150,000 Likes within two hours after the Obama administration confirmed he was dead. The page has actually been up  since 2001, the year the page’s admin claims Osama really died.

Celebrating Osama’s Death with Foursquare Check-Ins

By the Monday following Osama’s death Foursquare users started checking in to a world free of the Al Qaeda founder. Foursquare users were checking in to venues like the “Osama bin gonathon”, “Osamapacolypse” and the “OSAMA BIN LADEN IS DEAD VICTORY PARTY”.


Google Earth Used to Pinpoint the Whereabouts of Casa Abbottabad

After news broke out of Osama’s death, people started trawling Google Earth to find the location of his Abbottabad mansion.


I Meme Mine, I Meme Mine, I Meme Mine

No big event is a wrap until some clever troll finds a way to make a meme out of it.  Meme-makers from all ends of the net were tweaking iconic images of President Barack Obama (the victor) and poking fun at bin Laden, the bad guy that dies.

Here are just a few of my favourites.

Osama Bin Voldermort


Detective Trump


I’m The Man


Hide & Seek Chanmpion


Found You!


Obama Warrior On His Charlie Unicorm

The Situation Room

This photo had 600k views in the first hour. (13,000 views per minute)

The Super Situation Room


The Situation Room Starring: Every Meme Ever


The lead-up to bin Laden’s capture and death has been one of the most defining chapters of our decade. And now, the Osama bin Laden era is over.

But something Michael Moore wrote about regarding the bin Laden finale for Huffington Post struck me. He says,”I remember my parents telling me how, on the day it was announced that Hitler was dead, there was no rejoicing in the streets, just private relief and satisfaction.” While Moore is commenting on the disregardful nature of the frat-parties that went on “celebrating [Osama’s] death at the site where the remains of his victims are still occasionally found”, it got me thinking about the wild and uncontrolled nature of the Internet.

Social media pushes our threshold for what we can tolerate seeing, reading, even laughing at. I bet you all those keggers probably rallied up on Facebook first to arrange the meeting spot. If “the medium is the message” then the Internet is certainly a medium by which messages are transmitted that can shape our perceptions of events.

I found out about Osama bin Laden’s death from an Internet meme. Does that explain this post?

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