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Bin Laden's death unites Internet town square

May 2, 2011 at 3:16 PM ET

via Know Your Meme /

Word of Osama bin Laden's death wasn't the first time that Twitter and the Internet broke headline news to the nation, or the world. That distinction belongs to the death of Michael Jackson, or maybe Billy Mays — not to mention the myriad fake deaths spread via the microblogging service. Death notices are Twitter's big fetish. The death of living actor Jeff Goldblum has been tweeted so many times, it's hardly worth mentioning.

Bin Laden's death however, first rumored on Twitter, then confirmed by the president, has the distinction of inspiring the most spontaneous and robust virtual town square for Internet Americans of all stripes.

On Twitter and Facebook, U.S. traffic spiked higher than Friday, the day of Britain's royal wedding. Akamai’s Net Usage Index registered 4.1 million page views to news sites around 11:30 p.m. ET Sunday, around the time that President Obama began his remarks.

On Facebook, the already-existing "Osama Bin Laden is DEAD" page hit 150,000 "Likes" by the time the president took the podium, having acquired thousands of "Likes" by the minute. When President Obama did speak — news programming notably interrupting "The Apprentice," a show hosted by America's No. 1 "birther" Donald Trump — Twitter traffic rose to more than 4,000 tweets per second. That's roughly the same amount of tweets as during this year's Super Bowl.

Compared to this, a little shindig happening on YouTube in the comments under the Miley Cyrus video, "Party in the USA," was a minor event, but notable.

Like the myriad of responses happening across social media and real life, posts ranged from tears and anger to full-on bacchanalian revelry. It wasn't closure so much as a reason to talk about trauma. And when we talk about trauma, no matter the venue, it's often not appropriate, but always needed.

That so many commenters spontaneously gathered in these venues, and so quickly, reveals how naturally we've taken to Internet to share our experiences. A few examples under "Party in the USA":

who cares if you like her or hate her

Osama is dead Hooray

and also its LITERALLY a party in the USA right now

 

lol and y did I know people were going 2 listen 2 this when they found out Osama died

 

Move over Will and Kate. Americans are now having the best week ever! =)

As always, we are not the classiest of societies. On Twitter, Facebook and even under a silly Miley Cyrus pop song, the more serious of social network users argue, add commentary and are quick to point this out:

Yay.  ... American Soldiers dead. ... innocent children, mothers, fathers and grandparents dead. Trillions upon Trillions of dollars down the drain; Patriot act and the stripping of American's rights, phone tapping, internet tapping without warrants, TSA checkpoints at airports, bus stations, train stations and soon freeways and you guys drank the cool-aid (sic)? The man has been living from cave to cave for 10 years on dialysis with kidney failure. He hasn't run sh*t for years.

Point taken.

Such is the nature of the town square — the more commentary, the more arguments, the more interesting. Even the silliest posts tell us something about who we are. With the emergence of Jack Bauer in the top 10 Twitter trends, appearing soon after President Obama spoke of special ops mission that took out bin Laden, our mythology met technology, helping build a narrative to comprehend the news.  

"Let's all take this time to thank the one person who no doubt was behind the killing of Osama bin Laden: Jack Bauer," tweeted one person as the fictional "24" hero quickly rose to a trending topic on Twitter. Other accolades included "Nice job with the whole Osama thing" and one woman first professing her love to Mr. Bauer, followed by "We couldn’t have done it without" him.

Elsewhere on Twitter, we revealed ourselves via the funniest and most telling Twitter reactions to bin Laden's death. "Oh man I so hope the US soldier who killed Osama is gay," tweeted @BitterOldPunk. "Does anyone else find it kinda symbolic that Osama Bin Laden's confirmed death came on the anniversary of Voldemort's death?" tweeted another.

Again, not always classy, but not a diss to the non-fictional soldiers who did the job, either. In in the face of overwhelming horror, or the memory of it, we are often hilarious. "Great hideout would use again" writes "Osama Bin Laden" in a five-star review of the inaccurately identified Osama bin Laden compound on Google Maps —just one of hundreds of such comedy remarks.

Plenty others were quick to tie concerns that seemed so serious just a day before into satire of the latest news, with tweets yucking it up about bin Laden getting caught via his Sony PlayStation Network account or iPhone tracking ... or even checking in on Foursquare (Joke being, bin Laden prohibited Internet and cell phones around him). Meanwhile, the image macros library grows, starting with the one pictured here, of Obama apologizing for the tardiness of his birth certificate on account of he was busy with more pressing issues. It's followed with the inevitable quip about Donald Trump demanding a long-form death certificate for bin Laden.

That's just how we roll, and the Internet only helps.

More on the reaction to Osama bin Laden's death and the Internet:

Helen A.S. Popkin goes blah blah blah about the Internet. Join her on Twitter and Facebook, won't you?

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