Twitter, Media and the Osama bin Laden Story

Last night re-confirmed that Twitter is the medium of choice for breaking stories.  As a media channel, Twitter scooped literally everyone….again.  The story of the killing of Osama bin Laden drove massive amounts of sustained traffic, sentiment and insights throughout the night and into Monday.

Measured in Tweets-Per-Second,  the bin Laden story generated the highest sustained tweet rate in the channel’s history, an average of 3,440 tweets-per-second.  This type of activity is still mind-bending to me from a traffic volume standpoint.

Also…well, I’m still shocked when someone like Keith Urbahan, the “original” source,  is able to just tweet it out there and beat everyone to the punch.  Not only that, but the entire incident was live blogged by Sohaib Athar on Twitter.  Nearly all of the meaningful coverage and content touched Twitter first.  Even the mainstream media organizations broke the news on Twitter simultaneously with their regular channels.  I was watching CNN for the broadcast, but the entire time I was reading my Twitter feed and I got better info from it than I did from the CNN commentators.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Twitter has been the originating source media of a major story.  During the Iran protests, Twitter was so vital that the State Department contacted them and asked them to delay a network upgrade to protect the stream of content coming from Iranian protestors.  This was content that couldn’t be accessed by “mass media”, and peer media networks were the only way that information could escape the country. It was literally a lifeline for people.

Mubarak learned that turning off the Internet should be priority number one in any dictator’s effort to suppress  a story from blowing out of control.  He was right.  He was late, but he was right.  I found it odd and scary that he was able to do this,  and I wasn’t the only one.  It’s scary that someone can take this new thing away.  I’ve come to depend on Twitter as my most important source of news and content and I’m pretty sure that I’m in the norm.

With peer media, there’s no fact-checking.  There is no code of journalism. There’s no filter, no edit and no curation, just a massive amount of tweets.  But, the way peer media works,  the “best” stories have a tendency to float up if they are relevant, timely and started by reputable people. I think that’s where the fairness comes in to this type of a system.

I’m fascinated by what Twitter can be and I feel like we’re better off because of it.  I think decentralizing information distribution by creating peer networks makes the world more honest, and that’s good news for everyone.

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