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This month in tech history: May - Twitter breaks Bin Laden death

1 May 2011: Twitter reports Bin Laden death hours before President Obama


On 1 May 2011, at just before 1am local time, Sohaib Athar, a.k.a. @ReallyVirtual, tweeted that there was a helicopter hovering over Abbottabad. At the time, he didn’t realise the significance of what he was tweeting about.

The same day, carefully selected journalists received a brief email - just three words - from the White House: “Get to work”; President Obama was to make an announcement.

Twitter exploded.

At 10:25 p.m. E.T., Keith Urbahn (@keithurbahn), chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was seemingly the first to confirm suspicions.

President Obama himself confirmed bin Laden's death during a live broadcast announcement at 11:35pm ET.

14.8 million tweets were posted before Obama had the chance to make the official announcement.

According to a Twitter spokesman, more than 4,000 tweets were posted per second during Obama's address, making it, at the time, one of the highest-traffic conversations in the website’s history. At that time (Q2 of 2011), Statista records 85 million monthly active Twitter users. Twitter was five years old.

In comparison, during the 2016 US election five years later, 75 million related tweets had been sent by the time Trump claimed victory, with 35 million sent on election day itself. As of the third quarter of 2016, Twitter averaged at 317 million monthly active users.

In September 2011, Twitter’s official global PR feed, @TwitterComms, reported that Beyoncé’s baby announcement set a new world record, with 8,868 Tweets being sent per second.

According to Guinness World Records, the highest tweet rate per second occurred on New Year’s Eve 2012 – the number of tweets per second from Japan and South Korea hit 33,388.


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Kate Hoy

Kate Hoy is Editor of IDG Connect

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