Publisher's Outlook

Bin Laden's Death, Mobile and Social

By Rich Tehrani, CEO, Technology Marketing Corporation  |  June 01, 2011

In the wake of bin Laden's death it is worth reflecting on how consumers learned about the incident, which was first live reported by Sohaib Athar, an unsuspecting bin Laden neighbor who tweeted the fact that he heard a helicopter and a subsequent window-shaking bang (a rare event as he called it).

Later, a commenter @naqvi on Twitter (News - Alert) made the connection to these events and the Obama press conference that confirmed what had happened.Of course, later the hard news and analysis did come from the mainstream media, with lots of commentary from the social world.

What is most interesting to me, however, is the cheering that took place at a baseball stadium when the crown learned about the bin Laden news. Specifically, there was TV coverage of how people in the crowd were scanning their cell phones for the news and sharing it with others in the crowd. The concept of news circulating via social faster than TV is not something we haven't discussed before. But this stadium example of a large group learning about an important event via people at the center of an informal social circle shows you how news dissemination and the web have evolved over the years.

Speaking of large groups, as folks turned to Twitter to get information and comment on the news of bin Laden’s death, the social networking site hit a new record high of tweets even before President Barack Obama took to the White House podium to confirm that bin Laden had indeed been killed. 

Twitter reportedly experienced 3,000 tweets per second from 10:45 p.m. – when the news started to spread – until 2:20 a.m. ET. Its traffic peaked at 5,106 tweets per second at 11 p.m., shortly after President Obama went in front of the cameras, and at 11:45 p.m., when he concluded his speech, with 5,008 tweets per second. Meanwhile, as of Tuesday morning, Athar’s Twitter followers exceeded 94,000.

Also of note is the fact that news of Osama bin Laden’s death not only increased social media traffic, it led to a greater potential for spam and malware. Indeed, the SANS Internet Storm Center put up a warning right after the announcement was made that bin Laden had been killed, according to Ed Silverstein’s recent posting on TMCnet, the online news and information source of TMC (News - Alert), the parent company of Unified Communications Magazine.

“With any large news event like this, we expect a flurry of e-mails, and likely black hat search engine operations trying to take advantage of the event to distribute malware,” the center said.

"There are some image searches that return an image claiming to be an image of dead bin Laden, but right now, none of the servers hosting it respond,” Johannes Ullrich, chief technical officer of SANS Internet Storm Center, said in a blog post. “Some of the sites return SQL errors indicating that the sites are receiving too much traffic.”

And two hours after the official announcement about bin Laden’s death, sites claiming to have photos of the terrorist leader’s dead body started to appear, according to The Inquirer. In the case of one of these sites, Michael Sutton, vice president of Zscaler, a cloud security firm, told The Inquirer, “when viewers clicked on the link they were asked to download a VLC codec, which was in fact an adware tool called hotbar, a piece of malware that 19 out of 41 current antivirus engines can detect.”

Rich Tehrani is CEO of TMC. In addition, he is the Chairman of the world’s best-attended communications conference, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (ITEXPO (News - Alert)). He is also the author of his own communications and technology blog.

Edited by Rich Steeves