I was away for a long weekend, purposely disconnected, when the news broke of Osama Bin Laden’s death. No Internet, no newspapers, never turned the TV on. And I am perfectly capable of ignoring the buzz of my Blackberry on my waist. I found out yesterday (Monday) morning as I went to get a cup of coffee before checking out of our hotel. So I missed the press conference and ensuing social media blitz that followed. By about 11PM EDT Sunday on the east coast of the United States there were over 5100 tweets per second and more people were watching Twitter for news than were watching CNN. The tweet stream continues this morning faster than I can read it, although at this point of the day (still early on the east coast) most of the tweets are in languages I can’t read anyway.
But quite frankly, when I got home last night and wanted to catch up on the news, I did not turn to Twitter to catch me up. I wasn’t interested in those trying to sell Viagra by adding a #BinLaden hash tag to their advertisements. I wasn’t interested in the jokes or the commentary offered up in poor taste. I turned to real news sources. While Twitter is a good way to catch the eye, I find it a bit disturbing that many Americans rely on it exclusively for news and even more concerned over the apparent lack of interest in the facts. Sure there are good embedded links to real news sources, but the very nature of Twitter – the ultimate “sound bite” – says to me that many are more interested in sensationalism and opinion than real data.
The real facts include data that tells us that Bin Laden has not been in a cave for the past 5-6 years, but instead in a million dollar mansion within spitting distance of the Pakistani military. But from one communication perspective, he really has been in a cave because he religiously avoided telephone and Internet connections, relying instead on couriers who picked up and delivered information and his taped video broadcasts. Interestingly enough, it was partly his thirst for communication and the clues retrieved from those very video communications that helped the United States track him to that compound. That and the money trail that funded terrorist activities over the years.
So we are reminded just how important data and communication are to every facet of our life today. Millions were riveted to computers and televisions as we all watched President Obama and his top advisors watching the raid live. Contrary to the image of the cave-dwelling Bin Laden that has been previously portrayed, although the Al Qaeda leader may have cut the cord for outgoing transmissions, he was certainly equipped to monitor incoming data. There was a satellite on the roof of the compound and a host of computers within. And we now hear that that elite team of Navy Seals have recovered the “mother lode” of intelligence from hard drives and thumb drives.
Let’s hope that data and intelligence is sufficient to guard us from the threat of retaliation from sympathetic terrorists that survive the master mind of the worst terrorist attack the United States has ever experienced. Although many liken Bin Laden’s death to “cutting off the head of the snake” and others compare it to the death of Hitler, there are a couple of differences that tell us the threat is not over. First of all, by the time of Hitler’s death, many of his top leaders had grown disillusioned and were only following him because of the fear of the consequences if they ceased to do so. The followers of Bin Laden appear to still be true believers. And they have more data and better speed of communication than Hitler and his enemies could ever have imagined were possible.