Osama Bin Laden's Death as Told by Social Media and Search Engines

September 11, 2017

While Twitter, Facebook, and media outlets around the world were ablaze with news of Osama Bin Laden’s death on the night of May 1st, I was fast asleep in bed. It seems I’m always sleeping through important events, having snoozed through the Royal Wedding as well. I don’t wake up at 5 am for anything, and while old ladies in fancy hats are always good for a laugh, I’ve gotten more of my share of darling William and Catherine through the continuous stream of replay coverage.

So naturally it wasn’t until I groggily sat down at the computer with my coffee the next morning that I had any idea of the massive NYC partying I had missed out on. And like many others, I got the startling news via Facebook.

Twitter Sets Aflame With an Abbotta-BANG!

Osama Bin Laden’s death has once again exemplified the massive impact social media has had on how we receive news information. Twitter announced that the night of May 1st showed the most Twitter activity the site has ever seen in terms of “sustained rate of tweets.” According to Twitter, from 10:45 PM Eastern time on May 1 through 12:30 AM on May 2, there were on average 3,440 tweets per second (TPS) happening.

Twitter Activity

An Accidental Witness

Tweets about Bin Laden’s death spread long before the President’s announcement. Unbeknownst to him, Sohaib Athar, a.k.a. @ReallyVirtual, live-tweeted the top secret raid on Bin Laden while it unfolded in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Initially complaining about the loud helicopter near his home, Athar later realized the momentousness of what he had witnessed, tweeting, “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”


It is incredible to see how much has changed since the social media revolution. Twitter is only five years old and already holds the kind of news muscle that newspapers can only fantasize about.

Google Pre- and Post-9/11

Search Engine Land posted a fantastic article documenting and comparing Google’s pre- and post-9/11 relationship to news events; the change is so drastic, it’s nearly disturbing.

It’s strange to recall a time where Google didn’t have a news search engine. Incredibly, folks were searching “World Trade Center” on 9/11 and finding nothing more than tourist information. Google actually had to use its homepage to direct people to television and alternative news sites! It sounds so different from the Google powerhouse we know today.

Compare that to Google’s recent role in the Bin Laden death news and the search engines teeming with Bin Laden info.

The Hot Searches for May 1st in Google Trends illustrate a total Bin Laden takeover (not literally – he’s dead you know!).

Google Trends

The Search for Knowledge

Search engines have become our main source of obtaining information. Google has even gone as far as to re-title their Senior VP of “search” to the Sr. VP of “knowledge.”

Yahoo released some statistics about recent Bin Laden related search activity:

Top Osama Bin Laden Questions:

1. Is Osama bin Laden dead?

2. How did Osama bin Laden die?

3. Who killed Osama bin Laden?

4. How old is Osama bin Laden?

5. Who is Osama bin Laden?   (really?)

6. Where was Osama bin Laden killed?

7. Is Osama bin Laden dead or alive?

8. How tall is Osama bin Laden?

Other Interesting Statistics:

  • “September 11th” searches went up 1,009% on Sunday
  • “US Flag” searches went up 717%
  • “Pakistan map” spiked 2,594% on Sunday
  • 66% of searches for “who is osama bin laden?” were by those aged 13-17
  • 25% of searches overall for Osama bin Laden came from those under 24 years old
  • “Pakistan news” spiked 610% on Sunday
  • Searches spiked “off the charts” for “Islamabad” and "Abbottadbad" (“Off the charts” is used by Yahoo for a topic which had little/no searches for that same topic in the prior week or month)
  • Searches spiked for “osama bin laden compound,” “osama bin laden mansion” and “osama bin laden hideout”
  • Overall, Osama bin Laden-related searches went up 100,000%

No more digging through dusty card catalogs and ancient moth-ridden volumes—search engines are the tools of the scholarly learner now.

False MLK Quote Litters Twitter and Facebook

Naturally, we all know that the “don’t believe everything you read” mantra applies to the webverse as well. So perhaps it’s appropriate that alongside this need for detailed knowledge concerning Bin Laden’s death, there has been some deceit and confusion as well.

Osama Bin Laden’s death has been met by many with satisfaction, but also with some disdain at seeing a human (no matter how terrible) death nakedly celebrated. Reflecting the complexity of the situation, Twitter and Facebook users across the nation posted this quote:

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 first sentence of this "quote" cannot be found anywhere in the records of MLK's writings. The mix-up came about when Jessica Dovey posted some wise words of her own, followed by an MLK quote. Her sentiments rung true with the country’s conflicted emotions, and some careless cutting-and-pasting resulted in a Frankenstein-esque quote widely attributed falsely (in part) to Dr. King.

A Lesson to Be Learned…

The event of Osama Bin Laden’s death and the ensuing internet activity serves as an additional testament to the power of and dependence on social media and search engines as a source of news.

I’m certainly grateful that the latest breaking news is now easier than ever to follow, but we should keep in mind that our search-related quest for knowledge must not overpower our scrutiny.

Aaand to all the geeks out there, May the Fourth be with you!

(Read More: Guide to Using Social Media for Marketing)

Megan Marrs

Megan Marrs

Megan Marrs is a veteran content marketer who harbors a love for writing, watercolors, oxford commas, and dogs of all shapes and sizes. When she's not typing out blog posts or crafting killer social media campaigns, you can find her lounging in a hammock with an epic fantasy novel.