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

GWU students celebrate after President Obama's address. Courtesy: Hunter Thomas

Keith Osentoski said he should have been studying for a final exam. Instead, the George Washington University (GWU) junior was thumbing through his iPhone Sunday night when campus Twitter chatter said students were gathering outside the White House to celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden.

Osentoski was one of more than 1,000 GWU students who flocked into the streets of Washington, D.C. after President Obama announced that a team of Navy SEALS had killed the famed terrorist leader, who had evaded authorities for a decade.

No bin Laden-specific Twitter hashtags emerged in the minutes after Obama’s late-night national address among GWU students, but opinions and celebration invitations flooded the social media site throughout the night and into the wee hours of Monday.

“It was more of a spontaneous sharing of ideas,” Osentoski said. “I think of it as a cascade.”

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Reports of spontaneous celebrations erupted at some the country’s best-known campuses, including Stanford University, Notre Dame, and Ohio State University.

Some students didn’t just use Twitter and Facebook to organize impromptu get-togethers, but learned of bin Laden’s death via friends’ posts, according to reports from several campus newspapers.

On Twitter, someone posted a link to a photo of celebrations at the University of Delaware and called it an “intense sense of closure for people who were frightened little kids in ’01.”

“I think the feeling Sunday night was of celebrating justice and of unifying as Americans,” said Osentoski, a political communications major. “The feeling there was tremendous. I stood with about 20 of my fraternity brothers in a crowd of thousands, draped in an American flag, chanting USA, and singing the National Anthem. … It was that American moment each generation has that will stick with us forever.”

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