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Bin Laden Coverage on Twitter and Facebook: 19% Funny

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has worked with Crimson Hexagon to analyze the early coverage of the Osama Bin Laden raid, focusing on coverage in the mainstream press, the blogosphere and on Twitter/Facebook between Sunday night, May 1, and Wednesday, May 4.

The analysis found that the mainstream press focused primarily on reporting details of the raid (25%) and on international and U.S. reaction to the news (24%).  Blog coverage focused primarily on accounts of the event (14%) and “fear/general unease” (13%).

On Twitter and Facebook, however, the largest share of the conversation (19%) was the sharing of jokes, which Pew describes as “something of a national ritual and emotional outlet for momentous events from the triumphant to the tragic.”

Tweets per second.The evening of Sunday, May 1, set the record for the highest sustained level of tweets per second (TPS), averaging 3440 TPS from 10:45 to 12:30pm ET.  PEJ’s use of Crimson Hexagon captured nearly 7 million posts over the three days about bin Laden.

The humor ranged from the topical (“Breaking News: Donald Trump demands Osama Bin Laden’s death certificate”) to insult comedy–BuzzFeed collected 23 of the funniest here. The prevalence of the joke-telling decreased from May 1 to May 4, but as late as May 3, no other topic was generating more attention, to the point where @bunnyultramod posted the following message on Twitter:

“Late night talk show monologue writers are reading Twitter now and cursing it for burning through every possible punch line.”

The second major theme involved debating whether bin Laden was dead. Fully 17% of the conversation on Twitter and Facebook involved the idea that the U.S. government was perpetrating a hoax in telling the world it had killed bin Laden on May 1.  People also used Twitter and Facebook to simply share with each other the news that bin Laden was dead; this filled 14% of the conversation monitored on these platforms.

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