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Osama bin Laden was the founder of al-Qaeda, the jihadist organization responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States, along with many other terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets. In early May 2011, after almost ten years of manhunt in the Middle East, bin Laden was killed by the U.S. Special Forces in Pakistan. The news of his death was welcomed throughout much of the world and the Internet.
At 11:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) on May 1st, 2011, U.S. President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born founder of the jihadist terrorist organization al-Qaeda responsible for the September 11 attacks on the United States. Following this announcement, both the mainstream media and internet began to run amok with floods of conversations and reactions to the news of bin Laden’s death.
According to Akamai (AKAM), a content delivery network serving about 20% of the Internet’s content, news stories about bin Laden’s death reached its peak at more than 4.1 million pageviews per second on its client sites, which includes major publications like NYTimes, Reuters, BBC and USA Today. For a brief history on portrayal of Osama bin Laden in the Western media, refer to KYM Blog – Osama bin Laden in the Media.
- At 12:58 am local time on May 1st, 2011, IT Specialist Sohaib Athar (Twitter handle @ReallyVirtual) tweeted about a helicopter near his home in Abottabad, Pakistan. Following President Obama’s adress the next day, he became a topic of interest for ‘live-tweeting’ the raid on the mansion where Osama bin Laden was killed.
- At 9:47pm (ET) on the same day, Dan Pfeiffer, communications director for the White House, tweeted an announcement about Obama Presdient’s national address scheduled at 10:30 pm. At 10:24pm, Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for the former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted: “So I’m told by a reputabe person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”
- At 10:25 pm, Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a The Rock) tweeted:
- At 10:43 pm, President Obama tweeted: “About to address the nation. Watch live: http://w.gov/live.” At 11:00 pm, President Obama addresses the Americans at home via live broadcast.
- At 1:09 am, Brian Anthony Hernandez posted an article on Mashable, detailing a timeline of tweets posted and re-tweeted by Washington insiders and the news media.
Within two hours of news reports and Obama administration’s confirmation, a Facebook page titled “Osama Bin Laden is Dead” began to accumulate massive counts of likes and user-tagged photos, standing at 527,293 likes and over 600 related photos as of May 1st, 2012.
There is also another Facebook page titled “Bin Laden Ain’t Dead, He’s Chillin With 2Pac,” which shows a photoshopped image of the deceased rapper Tupac and Osama bin Laden exchanging a hand shake.
The news of Osama bin Laden’s death instantly spread across Twitter, setting a new record for the “highest sustained rate of Tweets ever” according to Twitter’s announcement on May 2nd:
Last night saw the highest sustained rate of Tweets ever. From 10:45 – 2:20am ET, there was an average of 3,000 tweets per second. At 11p.m. ET, there were 5,106 Tweets per second. At 11:45p.m. ET, when Pres. Obama finished his remarks, there were 5,008 tweets per second.
On Google Earth
Meanwhile, Google users began posting tongue-in-cheek reviews of the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where the al-Qaeda leader was allegedly hiding before getting fatally shot by the U.S. forces:
Located in cozy, quiet neighborhood. Interrupted only occasionally by machine gun fire. Lacking in ameneties, but an up and coming area. Handyman special. One satellite phone available with smoking bullet hole for comms back home. CIA helicoptors offering complimentary air lift service for corpses. Great property to get away from it all. Must See!
- Submitted by Cra on May 2nd, 2011
Obama & Osama Mixup
After the news broke, several people mixed up “Obama” with “Osama” when reporting the news on various outlets. A headline on Fox News displayed “Reports: Obama Bin Laden Dead”. A screen grab was tweeted out shortly after by Twitter user @KyleHudgins that read “Great Job, Fox40! Classy.”
In Washington, D.C. a Fox news anchor accidentally said “President Obama is, in fact, dead.”
MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell tweeted “Obama shot and killed”.
Photoshopped Osama Corpse
A photo of what appeared to be a corpse (warning: NSFW) of Osama was passed off as authentic by Pakistani and British media outlets. It has been revealed to be a faked composite image that began circulating as early as April 29th, 2009 according to The Guardian:
The bloodied image of a man with matted hair and a blank, half-opened eye has been circulating on the internet for the past two years. It was used on the front pages of the Mail, Times, Telegraph, Sun and Mirror websites, though swiftly removed after the fake was exposed on Twitter.
Photographer Kenna Lindsay invoked This Looks Shopped in an interview with CNN:
“I have seen a great number of poorly Photoshopped images in my time as a photographer and I can tell by the pixels that it is a fake,” said Kenna Lindsay, a New York-based photographer who works with composite images.
After the announcement of bin Laden’s death, a quote incorrectly attributed to Martin Luther King Jr. began being passed around:
“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” --Martin Luther King Jr.
The quote actually comes from the Facebook status update shown below by Jessica Dovey. She prefaced the real MLK quote with her own thoughts, and the entire status update was mistakenly attributed to MLK. By the time it reached Twitter, only the first line was being tweeted “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy,” but MLK never said this.
Another quote was falsely attributed to Mark Twain that said: “I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.” Mark Twain never said this; the actual quote comes from the Scopes Monkey trial lawyer Clarence Darrow, and is slightly different: “Everybody is a potential murderer. I’ve never killed any one, but I frequently get satisfaction reading the obituary notices." 
The Situation Room
On May 2nd, 2011, a photo of President Obama and his cabinet staff convened in The Situation Room was uploaded to the official White House Flickr account that has been the subject of many photoshopped parodies.
It shows President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and members of the national security team gathered inside the White House Situation Room as they receive updates on the mission against bin Laden. Today -- barely two days after the photo was shared -- the image is almost the most viewed item on Flickr.
Mashable – Timeline: How News of Osama Bin Laden’s Death Unfolded on Twitter / Posted on 5-2-2011
Time Newsfeed – After Bin Laden’s Death, (Mostly) Fake MLK Quote Goes Viral / 5/3/2011
CNN – Widely distributed death photo of Osama bin Laden is fake / 5/3/2011
MSN Digital Life – White House photo viewed as often as it is parodied / Posted on 5/2/2011