College students turn to social media in wake of bin Laden death

Sean Morrow, a senior at Clark University in Massachusetts, watched Sunday night as his friends’ Facebook pages lit up with photos and status updates from various impromptu gatherings on other campuses.

“It’s kind of surreal to watch people celebrating someone’s death,” says Morrow, a political science major. But he understands it because, for him and many others his age, bin Laden was their boogeyman, “the main negative person of our generation.”

Richard Laermer, a publicist in New York who tracks youth trends, calls events like college campus celebrations “bolts from the blue,” which resonate until the next hot topic arises on Twitter.

“Twitter was all about Osama bin Laden until 5 a.m. (Monday) when suddenly the hottest topic was the rap singer Drake, who has a new duet out,” says Laermer, author of the book “2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade.”

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Menachem Wecker, cofounder of the Association for Social Media and Higher Education and a staff writer at a GWU publication, said that most students there don’t use the school’s Twitter hashtag to engage the campus community, but students who regularly seek social media interaction can create a stir during important events.

“What we are seeing is a very engaged minority on campus that is sharing everything from news clips to information about campus events, and from excitement about the GW brand to occasional criticism,” Wecker said. “It’s fair to say that important events, like the news about Bin Laden, will dominate the kinds of tweets that GW students send out to the conversation tag, but the constant volume shows that the university is lucky to have some of the most digitally savvy and social media engaged students around.”

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