Tuesday, May 10, 2011

OBL's death puts Twitter on overdrive

Osama Bin Laden may have tried to duck technology, but it ultimately caught up with him. A fairly large house in a well-to-do suburb without connectivity? It was just a matter of time before the inevitable alarm bells rang. In 2011, it is absolutely foolish to not be connected to the internet, and in OBL's case it was downright lethal. (OBL is the acronym Bin Laden goes by on Twitter.) Just how connected are we?

For starters, the fact that OBL's neighbour, Sohaib Athar, was live tweeting the raid, and in doing so, he outed the operation, is impressive: "Since taliban (probably) don't have helicopters, and since they're saying it was not 'ours', so must be a complicated situation." He wasn't alone. After a successful operation, Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tweeted, "So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn." This tweet went viral and in a short amount of time, thousands and even more thousands of people started logging on to Twitter, speculating and circulating whatever news they could find.

An online poll conducted by Mashable.com revealed that the majority of people were getting their information off social networking sites, with TV operating in the background. Ask anyone, and the answer will echo that sentiment.

Twitter went into electric overdrive (if that is even a phrase), and official estimates state that right after President Obama finished his remarks, there were 5,008 tweets per second. This means 300,480 opinions per minute. This is second only to the spike witnessed in the aftermath of the Japan tsunami, which peaked at 6,939 tweets per second.

It has been widely recognised that OBL's death has officially put Twitter's influence as a news source above the mainstream media's, with major journalists tweeting away as well.

Not to be left behind, Facebook has seen close to 500,000 people join a group called "Osama Bin Laden is DEAD". Taking advantage of this clear expression of interest, links to Osama's death video have been sent out by hackers via email and social networking sites in an effort to steal sensitive personal information or infect computers. The virus is so widespread that even the FBI has put out a statement cautioning against clicking on the links.

In India, OBL's death has brought up another controversial subject, Indo-Pak relations. Twitter lists out "trending topics" on the right side of the page that indicates the topics being discussed the most, and the group @Trendsmap India tabulates the results for India. Here, the conversation went somewhat like this: #osamadead, #abbottabad, #dawood, #kasab, #zardari, #bombers, #afzal, #assassination and so on. These topics make it very clear that unlike the US, which was more concerned about proof of Osama's death, and despite the large conspiracy theories floating online, Indians were primarily reflecting on their own war on terror. And this demographic has great untapped potential. Half of India's population is under 25, and 2/3 are under 40 years. In a figure released by Antti Ohrling of BLYK this week, a company that works in the sphere of mobile-based marketing, just over 50% of Indian youth accessed the internet in the past three months. Even if a healthy number of these use or begin to use Twitter as a way of expressing opinions, this will give traditional media a run for its money.

Social media's appeal has been widely discussed in the media. I think it has been best described by Patrick Ruffini, when he tweeted, "last night, the real time flow of text on a 3 inch display proved more compelling and addictive than the moving image." The thing about social media is that the narrative keeps shifting and adjusting according to new information and opinion that appears online. So, if someone were to ask, "how did they identify OBL's body?" it is only a matter of minutes before another person links to the New Scientist's article explaining how. The speed at which new information gets updated on social media, and the variety of sources it links back to, is unprecedented. That is why the computer/mobile screen has come to become a hotbed of interactivity that newspapers and televisions simply cannot compete with. And they don't need to since the phenomenon of "Social TV" has arrived.

This is when viewers watch the mainstream and report it on social networks, therefore connecting those who are on social networks with the mainstream. It is also the reason why most television channels and newspapers have a social media component, and why government and politicians are getting social media accounts. And what makes compelling reading is the mixture of news, opinion, jokes — "so OBL is dead... amazing what the Americans can do when they Playstation Network is down" — and personal anecdotes.

As for OBL, his death is historic for many reasons. But the unexpected one is that people went to Twitter first to talk about it. And even bigger, Twitter told them about it first.



IR said...

i have never understood twitter business model , where do they earn money from ?

no advt , no joining fees

twitter and Fb will become more prominent modes of communication in times to come because of internet penentration and smart phones , idpad's etc , will they bring about any qualitative change to the real issues ? i am not too sure

they are more like giant community halls , with no entry barrier

on OBL , i cannot belive the US is still wondering if paskistan state was involved or not ( read the latest TIME) , i am sure OBL did not book the mansion through sunday newspaper classifields .

i just hope this is not part of some trade off , Af war was turning out to be too expensive , so the US might withdraw now and give Pak a free run ?

on another note are you happy with your HCL laptop , i am looking to change mine

Anonymous said...

true... !! even i was out of reach of all informing sources and found out on loggin in to my fb account through my phone!!

egg style said...

It is ironic in a way that Twitter broke the news of America's Operation Geronimo and the killing of Osama [U'sama, some spelt the name, maybe to abbreviate Uncle Sam or something]. For, Twitter and its birdie tweets remind us conceptually of Plato and Zeno's ancient Greek argument over humans being mere 'featherless bipeds' (Zeno had even plucked a chicken to stuff in Plato's face). Really, two-legged, bow-legged or no-legged, what lee-way sets the species apart? And why are humans so at war with themselves?

A lot of people have woken up to find that there is plenty amiss with the way things are, things that aircraft-as-missiles, Abu Ghraib's torture chambers, waterboarding or drone attacks are not about to resolve, even as the smashing and trashing continues. It is dismaying that the fog of 'the war on terror' has turned vast numbers of the allegedly educated complicit in wholesale subordination of the truth (in perceptual terms) to some vague notion of civilizational victory, little realizing how profoundly suicidal this is (not, mind you, in any Socratic manner... we're not talking hemlock here, we're talking stultification) whether you are nuclear armed or not.

Rarely has the world needed genuine intellectuals in mutual engagement. Books have taken up the challenge in ways subtle and obvious, but most of the media has dumbed itself out of the conversation, with Twitterspace playing little beyond a titter-tatter role (in my awareness), since this crowd is led largely by the idiot box.

Twitter can be entertaining for college level banter (callow jokes on 72 virgins, 74 heaps of ashes, whatever else), but it has yet to impress me as a medium that one ought to take note of. There are dozens of books to read and more than stuff one's thoughts with... not just nod along with what's written, that is, argue with them. Some of these books are as heavy as John Gray's Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern, some as revealing as Abdel Atwan's the Secret History of Al-Qaida. Do today's Twitter types have an attention span for even a fraction of this?

mahima said...

I think people miss the potential and the positives of technology by placing too much pressure on the users. I've seen it with people who are angry about facebook activism (that people don't do enough in real life) and now with your post about twitter users not being deep enough (as you, i presume?)...

who am i to say about "twitter types" and what they read except to say that i'm a twitter type and i don't think i'm better or worse than a non-twitter type.. but perhaps more informed in real time of many, many events.

mahima said...

But frankly, this para...

"Rarely has the world needed genuine intellectuals in mutual engagement. Books have taken up the challenge in ways subtle and obvious, but most of the media has dumbed itself out of the conversation, with Twitterspace playing little beyond a titter-tatter role (in my awareness), since this crowd is led largely by the idiot box."

..could not be more wrong.

mahima said...

anyway i'll leave to you to stop judging and go explore what is out there for yourself.

mahima said...

HCL laptop?? I'm a total mac user! And I love it!

egg style said...

Oh, er, Mahima, did not mean to either
A. sound dismissive of Twitter types, or,
B. include you in that bracket.


Your blog is clearly heads and shoulders above all the trivial nonsense one frequently hears on Twitter. And nor is it fair to club everyone on Twitter together as dolts who'd believe any gossip in the air without checking for authenticity/sources/motives etc. There are exceptions, obviously. Should have made that clear. Do not want to tar all feathers with the same brush.

My big contention is not about the credibility of Twitter. It is that no serious resolution of the world's acute problems is likely to be Twitter led (or even TV led, in India at least), for most of this crowd is only too quick to adopt a mindless lynch-mob mentality on issues that need far greater comprehension than zip-zap-zoom media allows. It is GroupThink on a vast scale, for the most part, and that is really unfortunate. What we need is truly knowledgeable people out there, people who have actually read enough on a variety of issues, and not from a point of prejudiced perspective, but with a genuine interest in peace.

egg style said...

Also, it seems to me that we have both seen different aspects of this Twitter thing, and are reacting accordingly. There must obviously be lots of wonderful folk on Twitter too! (do not follow any, so pardon my ignorance here)!

mahima said...

yeah. i think you'd be surprised at how many experts are on twtter, sharing opinions, reports, surveys, data....

i mean you can follow a few celebs and make up your mind according to that or search for the real gems.