We never expect to wake up in the morning after a night on Twitter to find ourselves an internet celebrity. Meet Sohaib Athar, otherwise known to the world of Twitter as @ReallyVirtual, “the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.” Athar assures us on Twitter that he never meant to unwittingly report the incident to the world: “had I known about it, I would have tweeted about it ‘wittingly’ I swear.”
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Athar heard a loud sound in his home city of Abbottābad. Having moved there to avoid bomb blasts, he found the noise to be unusual. So he did what any social media junkie would do: he tweeted about it.
As the morning unfolded, Athar and other local Twitter users exchanged information about a helicopter overhead (also a rarity in Abbottābad) and the crash of another helicopter. And then the pieces of the puzzle came together.
Seven hours after Athar began tweeting about the sights and sounds outside his own window, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s former chief of staff, Keith Urbahn, beat President Obama to the punch with his tweet: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”
Soon after, the White House announced the death of Osama bin Laden, during which one helicopter was lost. At the peak of the event, as many Americans were winding up their Sunday evenings, users were firing off 4,000 tweets per second.
Who was the first spreading information about an operation targeting an internationally wanted terrorist? Not any of the three-letter news corps and not the White House; it was an IT consultant with a Twitter account in Pakistan. We saw the same in March after Japan’s earthquakes and earlier this January in Egypt. No longer are we just glued to our TV sets or newspapers for breaking news, but our laptops and cell phones, too.