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Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden vs. Michael Jackson: Whose Death Got More Twitter Chatter?

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2011 at 4:13 PM


Like many people around the world, we learned about the death of Osama bin Laden not from a newspaper or TV, but from social networking sites, specifically Twitter. Standing in a long line for a movie, the news slowly rippled up and down the crowd, as people checked and then rechecked their smartphones in disbelief.

Later, we stayed up late watching as millions weighed in via Twitter about the death of the presumed architect of the 9/11 attacks. (There was even an IT consultant in Pakistan who unknowingly tweeted the assassination raid.)

The last time we remember Twitter exploding from a world news event was in the summer of 2009, when Michael Jackson died. But whose death got more cyber attention? Curious, we turned to Trendrr, a real-time metrics company, to see which international figure's death generated more Twitter traffic.

It turns out that, at least from what Trendrr can tell, bin Laden is generating more Twitter traffic -- by far.

"I remember when the death of Michael Jackson happened and mentions of his name on Twitter broke the threshold of 1 million tweets in a day," spokesman Jason Damata says.

Today we watched mentions of the hashtag #osama, which nearly choked our poor Tweetdeck client. According to our very rough math, we saw some 2,000 mentions of #osama within one minute. If that rate is holding firm, that would result in nearly 2.8 million uses of the #osama hashtag in just one day. This doesn't even account for the mutiple hashtags being used for the event, including #obl, #abbottabad, and #osamabinladen.

Twitter itself confirms that the news has pushed the microblogging giant into record-breaking traffic territory, with its @twitterglobalpr writing early this morning:

Last night saw the highest sustained rate of Tweets ever. From 10:45 p.m. to 2:20 a.m. ET(eastern time), there was an average of 3,000 tweets per second. At 11 p.m. ET, there were 5,106 tweets per second. At 11:45 p.m. ET, when President Obama finished his remarks, there were 5,008 tweets per second. An even more precise update: Twitter averaged 3,440 tweets per second from 10:45 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET last night.

Twitter also released the following graph showing the tweets-per-second data:

Of course, this doesn't conclusively prove that bin Laden's death is a larger story than that of a pop icon like Jackson. One fact to consider is that Twitter's user base has more than doubled since Jackson's death. Twitter had an estimated 75 million users at the end of 2009, but that number has grown closer to 200 million to date.

Still, Damata says, "This is the most massive thing I've ever seen in three years of tracking Twitter."

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly.

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Jake Swearingen


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