The killing of Osama bin Laden accounted for 80% of the news
links on blogs last week, making it the biggest single-week news topic discussed
in the blogosphere since the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in
Journalism began tracking blogs in January 2009. The bin Laden conversation
also accounted for fully half (50%) of the news links on Twitter from May 2-May
6. That would register it as one of the top 10 Twitter stories in the past two
After a full week, social media continued to discuss bin
Laden’s death in much the way PEJ found they had after the first three days. In
report on May 5, PEJ reported that on blogs, the leading topic was a
narrative account of the dramatic May 1 raid in Pakistan while humor and jokes
constituted the largest response on Facebook and Twitter. For the rest of the
week, those basic outlines remained, although attention to both those themes
And while bloggers and Twitter and Facebook users were busy
sharing and disseminating new developments in the basic narrative throughout
the week, there was also substantial skepticism in the online platforms about
whether the al Qaeda leader had actually been killed in the May 1 raid.
In the blogosphere, attention was divided as eight different
themes accounted for between 7% and 13% of the conversation. That included the
question of whether President Bush or Obama deserved credit for the bin Laden mission,
but also straight narrative accounts, the impact on the U.S. relationship with
Pakistan and the effect on the U.S. economy. And about one-quarter of the
bloggers’ conversation involved either fears of terrorist retaliation or
On Twitter and Facebook, where posts are shorter and are
often made up of instantaneous reactions, discussion of conspiracy theories and
hoaxes emerged as the No. 2 theme, right behind the humor thread.
As the week progressed, the percentage of posts made up of
jokes fell significantly while the segment devoted to straight accounts of the
May 1 raid increased, ultimately finishing the week as the third-biggest topic.
And as is often the case, Twitter users also became more focused on the role
social media was playing.
In addition to PEJ’s regular method of tracking social media
that makes up the weekly NMI, this report includes data derived using computer
technology by Crimson Hexagon that
examined more 160,000 blog posts, and 7.8 million posts on Twitter or Facebook
from May 1 through May 8. (Note: Facebook posts are not typically included in
PEJ’s social media analysis.) While PEJ’s NMI tracks links from social media
posts to news articles as one way to follow online interest, Crimson Hexagon’s
software is able to divide a much wider range of posts into themes, regardless
of whether the piece of media has a link or not.
Twitter and Facebook
During the nighttime hours of May 1, when news of bin
Laden’s death was just breaking, many people went to Twitter and Facebook to
pass on the news or share their initial reactions. Indeed, media reports have
generally credited Keith Urbahn—chief of staff to former defense secretary
Donald Rumsfeld—who tweeted word of bin Laden’s death at about 9:45 ET as being
the first person to break the news.
A number of tweets included nothing but the barest of information
such as, “RT @BreakingNews: President Obama to
announce that Osama bin Laden is dead - NBC News.”
Others linked to video
of President Obama’s announcement on the matter.
But the initial instinct for many others was to pass along
jokes. In the day and a half following news of the death, more than 20% of the conversation
on Twitter and Facebook was humorous in nature. While the discussion devoted to
jokes declined over the week (down to 11% for the last four days of the week of
May 5 to May 8), for the week overall, humor was the single largest narrative at
Bin Laden, Welcome Home,
Sincerely The Devil,” tweeted Paul Debono.
A particularly popular joke showed checkmarks next to the
names of three deceased global villains—Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and bin
Laden—and then included the name of a very successful living pop star who apparently
invokes some people’s ire.
Discussions of conspiracy theories and the possibility that bin
Laden was not actually killed also appeared frequently as 17% of the
conversation throughout the week fell into that category.
“They want us to believe they got Osama like our parents
wanted us to believe holliday characters are real,” suggested Josh Nagel.*
“Of course we all believe you buried bin Laden in the sea, no really
we do, honestly!” added JustRhea sarcastically.
As the week progressed, the area of discussion that grew the
most was news about further developments in the story. On the day after the raid,
on May 2, 13% of the conversation on Facebook and Twitter fell into that
category. By the end of the week, that number almost doubled to 25% on May 8.
People were using social media to keep others up-to-date on new information as
For example, LEmgr shared the following information on May
4: “Official: Obama chooses not to release bin Laden photos.”
Two days later, Intelwars.com tweeted, “Final Bin Laden
doomsday tape may be released by Al Qaeda disciples; U.S. officials fear
And as is often the case with users of social media and
especially Twitter, a number of users reflected on the role of social media
itself. Many linked to a Mashable poll
of its readers that showed that more than half of them learned about Bin
Laden’s death on Twitter or Facebook.
Others were intrigued by the story of
Sohaib Athar, a.k.a. @ReallyVirtual, who lives in Abbottabad
and reported the events of the raid without knowing it. Athar
described the sounds of helicopters in his neighborhood on May 1 without
knowing what was actually happening.
“Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid
without knowing it,” Athar later wrote.
Finally, politics were present in some of the Facebook and
Twitter discussion as 14% of the conversation fell into that category and
specifically involved the question of which president deserved more credit for
bin Laden’s demise. However, unlike many other major events, politics did not overwhelm
all other concerns.
For those who did discuss the political fallout, Obama
received almost twice as much credit as former President Bush did (9% to 5%).
“Osama Bin Laden KILLED!!!! whaaaaat! Obama is will
automatically be re-elected,” predicted Enitan Bereola, II.
“THANKS GEORGE W,” wrote Dan Scattolini while linking to a
column on Townhall.com
that argued that Bush policies helped take down Bin Laden.
The issue of presidential kudos also accounted for 14% of
the conversation on blogs last week, but politics was not the dominant subject
that is often the case with major news stories. However, unlike on Twitter and
Facebook, bloggers were evenly split between giving Obama and Bush credit.
“With the death of Osama Bin Laden, Congratulations are in
order to…President [Obama]. Good job. Job well done,” applauded Parker
“Thank you [President Bush] for the countless, unpopular
decisions you made that gave him [President Obama] such an unprecedented opportunity,”
defended Matthew Council at Rhinosbegone.
“All the policies you developed and strategies you implemented, against Obama's
will, are still in place today and provided the years of intelligence necessary
to locate the terrorist leader of the world, Osama Bin Laden.”
But aside from expressions of pride or relief, there were narratives
reflecting uneasiness that emerged in the blogosphere. Almost a quarter of the
conversation revolved around fears of repercussions as a result of the raid
(13%) and talk of conspiracy and hoaxes (11%).
Compared with Twitter, bloggers who did not believe the
official story about the death of bin Laden had more space to describe their
own alternate theories. Many bloggers pointed to a 2001 Foxnews.com report
that quoted the Pakistan
Observer as saying that bin Laden died that year due
to lung problems. Others were troubled by the changing details of the raid put
out by the Obama administration.
“The White House’s ‘death of bin Laden’ story has come apart
at the seams,” declared Dr. Paul Craig Roberts at Global
Research. “Will it make any difference that before 48 hours had passed the
story had changed so much that it no longer bore any resemblance to President
Obama’s Sunday evening broadcast and has lost all credibility?”
Some expressed concerns about the fallout from bin Laden’s
“However, it's hard to tell whether the war on terrorism
will get harder or easier,” wrote Amadeo.
“Is chopping off the head (of Al Qaeda) effective or will he become a martyr
thereby strengthening his followers? We must remain vigilant, as Al Qaeda may
try to retaliate.”
A lot of other bloggers simply reprinted parts of news
articles warning against potential attacks, such as a story
from the Australian 9 News site that quoted the alleged mastermind of the 9/11
attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. According to the report, leaked files found on
WikiLeaks quote Mohammed as saying that al Qaeda has hidden a nuclear bomb in
Europe which will they will unleash if Osama bin Laden is captured.
other themes present in the blogosphere were the role of Pakistan and the
impact of the news on the U.S. economy.
“This could become problematic for Pakistan,” suggested
Zohair at Political
Muslim. “While Pakistani officials have been stressing that Al Qaeda is not
present in Pakistan. Now the US could use this incident to confront Pakistan.
This could also be used to put a stamp of credibility on Predator drones even
though the UN
has renounced them as being too inaccurate and causing too
many civilian casualties.”
“The instant reaction to the death of Osama bin Laden was as
it should be: oil prices dropped, stock futures rose and decent people
celebrated,” noted Peter Miller at the HSH.com
blog. “But these were temporary blips on the economic scene, events which
will quickly fade in terms of financial impact.”
The Rest of the Week’s News
The No. 2 story on blogs last week, with 10% of the
news links, was related to the main storyline. The Dalai Lama gave a May 3 speech at USC where he appeared to
suggest that bin Laden’s death was justified. That was followed by another
related article; one recalling that on May
1, 1945, Germany announced Hitler had been killed (at 4%). The fourth-biggest
story was a Washington Post opinion piece by Joel
Achenbach discussing the national debt (at 2%).
On Twitter, the second-largest story (at 10%) was a report that
Facebook was considering an offer to buy Skype (Instead, Microsoft bought the popular
internet calling service a week later for a reported $8.5 billion.) Stories about
the hacking of the Sony company in response to its handling of the breach of
the Playstation network were third, at 5%. News that the
fashion retailer Express is now selling its entire catalogue on Facebook was
fourth (at 4%), while the expansion of the
internet radio service Pandora to include thousands of comedy clips was fifth,
also at 4%.
While the death of bin Laden dominated areas of social media
where people passed along news and expressed their opinions, it did not
register nearly as highly on the video sharing site YouTube. One possible explanation may be the
lack of dramatic images released in the wake of the highly secretive raid.
Instead, the focus was on the deadly tornadoes that ripped
through the Southeast over the previous two weeks. Two of the top five
most-viewed news videos illustrated the resulting devastation.
The most-viewed news video showed a tornado striking
Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Missouri’s largest airport, on April
22. The twister tore through a terminal and parts of concourse C forcing people
to run for shelter and leaving a trail of debris.
The No. 5 video, shot from inside a car on April 27, showed
the driver closely following tornadoes as they swept through the north side of
Philadelphia, Mississippi. Viewers can witness the devastation, toppled trees
and power lines and homes covered by fallen trees.
Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube For the Week of April 30 to May 6, 2011
1. A tornado striking a terminal at Lambert-St.
Louis International Airport
2. A man named Matt Cranch dies after a safety net
failed during a human cannonball stunt at a Kent County
showground in the U.K.
3. An account of former Miss USA Susie Castillo’s traumatic
experience during a TSA body search at Dallas Airport
4. A Portuguese-language video of a boy crying because his
twin brother killed an ant
5. Footage from close range of a Mississippi tornado shot from inside
The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading
commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares
those subjects to that of the mainstream press.
PEJ's New Media Index is a companion to its weekly News Coverage
Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating
today's news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans
interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social
media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream
press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and
interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news
the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in
the traditional press.
A prominent Web tracking site Icerocket,
which monitors millions of blogs, uses the links to articles embedded
on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. Using
this tracking process as a base, PEJ staff compiles the lists of links
weekday each day. They capture the top five linked-to stories on each
list (25 stories each week), and reads, watches or listens to these
posts and conducts a content analysis of their subject matter, just as
it does for the mainstream press in its weekly News Coverage Index. It follows the same coding methodology as that of the NCI. Note: When the NMI was launched in January 2009, another web-tracking site Technorati
was similarly monitoring blogs and social media. PEJ originally
captured both Technorati's and Icerocket's daily aggregation. In recent
months, though, this component of Technorati's site has been down with
no indication of when it might resume.
The priorities of the bloggers are measured in terms of percentage
of links. Each time a news blog or social media Web page adds a link to
its site directing its readers to a news story, it suggests that the
author of the blog places at least some importance on the content of
that article. The user may or may not agree with the contents of the
article, but they feel it is important enough to draw the reader's
attention to it. PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to
bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on links and
analyzing the results.
For the examination of the links from Twitter, PEJ staff monitors the tracking site Tweetmeme.
Similar to Icerocket, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a
particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do
with Icerocket, PEJ captures the five most popular linked-to pages each
weekday under the heading of "news" as determined by Tweetmeme's method
of categorization. And as with the other data provided in the NMI, the
top stories are determined in terms of percentage of links. (One minor
difference is that Tweetmeme offers the top links over the prior 24
hours while the list used on Icerocket offers the top links over the
previous 48 hours.)