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Social media generation shares news, emotions of bin Laden's death in electronic 'town square'

By Marjorie Cortez | Posted - May 3, 2011 at 10:07 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — Social media wasn't just the way they got the news that Osama bin Laden was dead. It was also how American youth gathered to interpret the events and share their feelings.

"It seems appropriate in the sense of where we're at in the media," said Kim Zarkin, associate professor of communication at Westminster College.

The story erupted Sunday night on Twitter, beginning with Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Then the mainstream media picked up the ball, which is where University of Utah senior Chelsey Alberico heard the news. Soon thereafter, the political science and mass communication major hopped on her social media accounts.

"I knew it would be exploding. It was crazy, the amount of status updates. It's insane how huge Twitter and FaceBook were yesterday," Alberico said. "I definitely used social media, that's for sure."

As Zarkin explains, social media has replaced the town square.

"We came together in a community space. No different than the people who were compelled to go to the White House or ground zero, we were compelled to go to FaceBook," Zarkin said.

As much as social media has become the way of the world, Zarkin said motivation behind Urbahn's tweet has been the subject of discussion in her classroom.

"It's just absurd to me this man felt it was appropriate to tweet it. We don’t know if it was motivated by politics or shock value," Zarkin said, explaining that national security interests were a concern.

"That's a concern with social media. We tweet before we think."

Alberico and Weber State University senior Ben Johns said news of bin Laden's death stirred many memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on America.

Johns was 16 at the time, Alberico just 12.

"It started out as a normal day. The school bus came and picked us up and we went to school," Johns said.

As the day's event unfolded, however, the world as they had known it had been forever changed.

"I remember being very scared. I felt like my innocence had been stolen," Alberico said in an interview Monday.

Johns said he was in a science class at Freemont High School in Plain City when two passenger jets crashed into a World Trade Center towers. He and his classmates had little information about attack at the time.

As the hours passed, Johns and his classmates began to comprehend the enormity of the events — the twin towers collapse, another passenger jet crashed into the Pentagon, another into a Pennsylvania farm field and thousands of lives lost. "We often think we're a great nation and nothing could happen to us. I felt very vulnerable at that moment, that people could do that to two of our proudest buildings and more than that, that our aircraft could be taken over and crashed into buildings like that," he said.

Alberico said the buzz on social media was reminiscent of the surge of national pride following the attacks on America.

"It was exciting. I felt like we were going back to Sept. 11, when everyone was being very patriotic," she said.

Alberico said learning that bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist and a mastermind of 9/11, had been killed by Navy Seals in a firefight in Pakistan made her feel "somewhat safer, although I know we probably aren't. They probably will retaliate.

"But it shows no one can hide from us. We will get you back. If you're going to bring harm to us, you're not safe."

Johns said he, too, felt certain, that U.S. forces would eventually capture al-Qaida leader bin Laden.

"Wow, it finally happened. It's nice to know the person who masterminded 911 has been brought to justice, in a way. Someone who caused that much destruction to our country has been removed from power," Johns said.

"It's a step in the right direction."

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Marjorie Cortez


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