President Obama announces bin Laden's death. (White House photo)

How did you find out President Obama was holding a surprise news conference, or that it was to announce Osama bin Laden’s death? There’s a decent chance it wasn’t from a traditional media outlet but from someone you follow on Twitter or Facebook.

In fact, the news appears to have been broken by Twitter — or, more specifically, by Keith Urbahn, chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who tweeted, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”

Details on the New York Times’ Media Decoder blog: How the bin Laden Announcement Leaked Out.

Greg Sandoval of CNet calls it “by far the weightiest story that Twitter has ever helped to break.”

The clues actually came even before Urbahn’s tweet. Someone in Abbottabad, Pakistan, live tweeted the raid as it was happening, without knowing the significance: “A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope its not the start of something nasty.” (Via Megan McCarthy as posted on TechMeme.)

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land has an interesting comparison of Google’s reaction to 9/11 and to bin Laden’s death nearly a decade later — showing how much more responsive search engines have become to real-time events.

On the subject of Google, the Atlantic notes that someone has already pinpointed bin Laden’s hideout on Google Maps, down to the block, but Atlantic readers are questioning the accuracy in the comments. One red flag: It’s essentially the same spot that comes up when conducting a generic search for Abbottabad in Google Maps.

Legitimate or not, the location of the compound on Google Maps is already getting lots of “reviews” from Google Maps users, as if it were a hotel or restaurant. One of the best: “Ugh. Impossible to find!”

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  • johnhcook

    I actually found out about Bin Laden’s death via a text message sent by my brother, which was kind of interesting since I was at Seattle Startup Weekend when the news broke. I thought someone in the crowd (certainly heavy Twitter users) would have passed on the info before I got the message.

    Now, I am watching CNN and they just did a report on the social media aspects of Obama’s speech, noting that it was live streamed on the White House’s Facebook page with a stream of status updates next to the speech.

    Then CNN went a little nutty in terms of highlighting Twitter’s impact, going so far as to read Tweets about Bin Laden’s death from celebrities like musician, actor Neil Patrick Harris and boxer Oscar de la Hoya. Really?

    I guess they needed to fill some air time.

  • Guest

    An IT who speaks English living in Abottabd actually tweeted about the live U.S. secret operation after hearing helicopters and explosions, not knowing what it was at the time. His tweets are hilarious if you go back to when he first heard the helicopters, and he already has 10,000 followers and growing. Expect to see him on the news soon.

    • johnhcook

      That’s amazing stuff. Thanks for sharing the link. I went back and read some of his Tweets from before the attack was public knowledge. There’s some great stuff in there.

  • Guest

    Congratulations to the men of Twitter who have established themselves as my new news source. I think I speak for everyone when I say that Twitter is the fastest and therefore most informative source ever devised.

    • Anonymous

      “men of Twitter?” WTF?

  • MCNJC6


  • Glennled

    I first heard about it from a tweet by Jill Jackson, CBS News Capitol Hill producer ~18 hrs ago

  • DiDi

    thank you Mr President.very proud of you and finally justice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • keeping_it_real

    who gives a flying anything about what twitter had to do with this story. So you got a tweet a few minutes before we all knew…. for gawds sakes. The real news will ironically be via the old fashioned mediums when the magazine articles and books come out about what OBL was doing all these years. Whether you read it on your hand, in your heads up display or in a book the key will be to read more than 144 characters about it.

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