How Fast the News Spreads Through Social Media

Unless you have been totally disconnected from any sort of news over the past 12 hours, you’ve no doubt heard that Osama Bin Laden has been found and killed. Barack Obama, President of the United States, made the announcement late last night, but wasn’t the first one to break the story to a lot of people. Most people who are active on Twitter (and who weren’t asleep at the time) first heard the news through the popular social network where it spread like wildfire.

I first saw tweets about Bin Laden’s death start sometime around 10:30pm(EST). At first no one was sure if this was true or just an internet hoax that was taking off, but by about 10:45pm(EST) most of the TV channels had switched to some sort of coverage about it, so I knew it was real. From there, the tweets just kept on coming. By 11:30 Barack Obama had come on TV to address the world and tell us all what had happened.

Around 11:45pm(EST), just as Obama’s address was finishing, I decided to check MAP, our social media monitoring and analytics platform, to see just how much the word had spread through social media. Although I didn’t think to take a screen shot of what I saw, I did tweet out the info I found and it looked like this:

I continued to track the progress of how the talk about Bin Laden exploded throughout the night from the time of the announcement and it went like this:

Midnight(EST):


12:30am(EST):

1am(EST):

2am(EST):

I then had to finally go to sleep, but I woke myself up at 4am(EST) just to see how the talk had progressed with it now being 9am(GMT) in London, meaning that most people around the world would have now heard the news.

4am(EST):

I then went back to sleep and woke up again around 8am(EST) and started tracking the talk again.

8am(EST):

9:30am(EST):

In less than 12 hours since the tweeting began we saw almost 40,000 blog post and news articles and an astounding 2.2 million tweets all talking about Osama Bin Laden. As well, while no surprise that people in the US were talking the most about this event a look at our geo-location map shows us that people all over the world were tweeting about the news.

Some other interesting things that I noticed was that people were making jokes about Foursquare leading to the finding of Bin Laden. As time went on, people started started using Foursquare to check into places associated with the death of Bin Laden. Some people were checking in to the location where Bin Laden was found, while others were checking in to a “Post Osama Bin Laden World”.

By 10am(EST) this morning I was able to find 11,570 tweets that made reference to Foursquare and Bin Laden or were check-in’s tweeted out that were related to Bin Laden.

Just on an interesting side note, to see a little bit more about who was making these tweets, for the first time ever, I’m proud to debut one of our upcoming new features, the gender breakdown for Twitter. This is a new feature to Sysomos which has not been released into the public version of our system yet that uses a library of names to help determine the gender of Twitter users. According to our analysis 63% of tweets about Bin Laden came from males while the other 37% were female. Watch out for this new feature coming soon.

If this event isn’t proof of just how quickly social media can be used to spread news, I don’t know what is.

Where were you when you heard the news? How did you hear the news? Was it through social media? Leave us a comment and let us know.

56 Comments on “How Fast the News Spreads Through Social Media”

  1. Amazing that within the space of three days we likely witnessed two of the largest social media events in history. How did the numbers compare to the Royal Wedding?

  2. Hey Tony,
    That’s actually a great question that I’ve been meaning to look into, and will, whenever I get a spare moment in the day.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  3. Yep, I heard about the news through Twitter.

    I landed at Denver International Airport at 9:06 PM Mountain time. I had checked into the airport on Fourquare at 9:19 PM then turned on Twitter (Echophon app for iOS) to see what my friends were up to. It was immediately apparent that some big news about Bin Laden had occurred while I was in flight.

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  7. Hi Hornblower (sorry, not sure of your real name),

    I can understand how you may be a bit skeptical, but we release some more information about the system works when it’s ready for public launch. For now, I just thought it would be something nifty to include in this post.

    Cheers,
    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

  8. I think the thing with twitter is that, while it’s often first, it’s cried wolf so many times that you can only really believe a story once the mainstream has confirmed it. However, once that has happened, the twitterverse turns to it’s favorite sport of proclaiming the mainstream dead for being so slow – or ‘taking the time to fact check” as it is otherwise known…

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  19. I was asleep. But when I woke up I checked Twitter and like most thought it was an internet hoax. But the more sites I scanned the more I began to believe that it was true. I was in shock and still am.

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  26. I first heard the news on TV at 10:20pm or so…I was watching Brothers and Sisters on ABC when ‘Breaking News’ came on. The networks all stayed live until the President spoke at around 11:40pm. NOTHING beats real time TV news/reporting. I love to see the activity, the expressions etc. This is something that unfortunately cannot be achieved by Twitter or Facebook…

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