Twitter delivers news of bin Laden's death first

Sure, there was lots of erroneous speculation on Twitter, but posted to the micro-blogging site was a message from a former assistant to former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld that said: "they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn."

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
2 min read

Once again, Twitter carried vital information to Americans ahead of traditional news outlets.

Keith Urbahn, once chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, is credited with breaking the story about the death of Osama bin Laden. Twitter

The news that American special forces had killed Osama bin Laden, perhaps the most wanted man in the world, first began to trickle out when the White House communications director posted on Twitter that President Obama planned to address the nation at 10:30 p.m. eastern time, The New York Times reported Sunday evening.

Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks were also where people went to speculate--much of it erroneous--about what the president would discuss during his address to the nation.

According to the Times, the first scoop didn't come from that paper, the Washington Post, ABC News or any other news organization. Keith Urbahn, once chief of staff for former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was credited for the Twitter scoop when he posted this note: "So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn."

Chalk another one up again for citizen journalism and micro blogging. Twitter already had loads of scoops to its credit, such as being home to some of the first reports and photographs of the heroic crash landing of a U.S. Airways commercial jet on New York's Hudson River. Nonprofessional journalists using Twitter were first to report about the fatal shooting at Fort Hood in November 2009.

But tonight's news was by far the weightiest story that Twitter has ever helped break.

Bin Laden led al-Qaeda, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and much of the Western world. He is accused of being the architect of the September 11, 2001, airplane hijackings and attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., which resulted in the immediate death of more than 3,000 Americans.

During his speech, President Obama told the country that a small group of American troops had staked out for months a compound in Pakistan where a tip led them to believe bin Laden was hiding. The president authorized a small team of U.S. forces to assault the compound where a firefight ensued. Bin Laden was killed and U.S. authorities are now in possession of his body.

Because the president's speech was delayed until after 11 p.m. ET, Urbahn's tweet was followed by reports from traditional news outlets that bin Laden was dead.

Though Twitter can often seem like a repository for false or misleading reports, each Twitter user should be seen as a separate news source. Some are more accurate than others and it's up to the reader to decide who is telling the truth.

When it comes to being first, Twitter is a site built for speed. While TV cameramen and newspaper journalists are rushing to get to the scene of a news event, Twitter has already compiled posts from witnesses or people directly involved.

One more Twitter highlight from Sunday evening, the site appeared to handle a flood of traffic without any of the annoying outages or technical hiccups that we've seen in the past during big news events.