Osama bin Laden's death as experienced by the Facebook generation
Osama bin Laden's death was an instant Twitter sensation. But likely more people shared their immediate reactions on Facebook -- especially those under twenty, like my seventeen-year-old twin daughters. Last night, while my wife and I channel-surfed, 20th century style, in advance of President Barack Obama's speech, they sat alongside us, tracking pals' reactions on their smart phones.
And damn it if the information they picked up wasn't more telling that the time-killing blather spewed by dozens of talking heads.
The Facebook responses included plenty of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" cyber-chanting, as well as some more imaginative takes. One high schooler wrote that bin Laden had a nice beard, but it was time for him to go. Another noted that he got the news in a text alert from ESPN -- and was ultra-impressed by how well the sports net took care of all his needs.
Of course, some oldsters weighed in, too, including a friend of mine who opined that nailing bin Laden was a pretty impressive accomplishment for a Socialist Muslim born in Kenya. (Sorry, birthers, but he meant it sarcastically.) But my favorite remains this observation from a high schooler: Imagine how many wall posts there would have been had Facebook been around when Adolf Hitler was killed.
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Funny he should mention that. Among the only pieces of information shared on a local channel that I hadn't already heard on networks or cable-news outlets was the 9News assertion that Hitler's 1945 death had also been made public on May 1 -- raising the possibility that May Day could eventually become better known as Dead Mass Murderer Day.
Channel 9 also localized the bin Laden death story by speaking via phone with Sandy Dahl, wife of late Ken Caryl resident Jason Dahl, the pilot of doomed Flight 93, which crashed in a Pennsylvania field on that fateful September 11th day almost a decade ago. But this was one story that didn't really need localizing. It impacted all of us who were alive and sentient in the late summer of 2001, and everyone who's come along after that date as well.
Last night was a flashback to that time for those of us who instinctively turn to broadcast media at times of momentous global events -- but this time around, it was infinitely easier to laugh at the gaffes that naturally pop up under such circumstances. My favorite: ABC announced an upcoming appearance by former National Security Council member Richard Clarke with an onscreen graphic referring to "DICK CLARK." I was bitterly disappointed when the other Dick Clark didn't mark bin Laden's death with the lowering of a giant, glittery ball in Times Square...
Also loved that Fox News continues to stubbornly stick to the "Usama bin Laden" spelling -- abbreviated this morning as "UBL," which suggests the channel that served as a platform for mad-as-hell anchor Howard Beale in the movie Network. And more hilarity was offered by NPR, whose Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson kept referring to "Mr. bin Laden" during her report this morning. Even mister-king the New York Times did away with the honorific in his case.
Of course, print journalism has a different role than it once did in situations like this one. Rather than informing the public, newspapers essentially provide collector's items for those who want something physical as a keepsake. Maybe that's why the Denver Post took extra time delivering its edition today -- my copy hadn't arrived by the time I left home at 5:45 a.m., and Westword's weren't here upon my 6:15 a.m. arrival at the office, despite the Post's alleged 5:30 a.m. delivery "guarantee."
After all, everyone already knows bin Laden is dead. They found out on Facebook.
More from our Tech archive: "Unfriending: Facebook study shows that posting unimportant stuff too often drives users up wall."