Celebratory users have marked multiple possible sites of the late Osama bin Laden’s “mansion” hideout on Google Maps and Google Earth. They also posted scathing reviews of the amenities and architecture of the fortress-like compound.
Following President Barack Obama’s May 1 announcement that the United States Navy SEAL forces killed Osama bin Laden, users celebrated by tracking down the hideout compound on Google Maps. Before the U.S. Department of Defense released photos and diagrams on May 2, users used Google’s Map Maker Web app to “pin” several locations in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that may have been bin Laden’s secret residence.
The “mansion” was just a house about six times larger than neighboring houses, with walls as high as 15 feet and topped with barbed wire. The million-dollar residence was located near a police station and military headquarters in Abbottabad.
Anyone who searches “Osama bin Laden’s compound, Abbottabad, Pakistan” will find multiple locations entered by various users, as well as satirical reviews, ranging from five-star reviews of the “authenticity of the hideout” to complaints about poor cell reception and no Internet service.
“It took us years to find this little place! But once we did it was a HIT! ” a user under the name “Emily” posted on Google Maps.
A user under the name Irwin “Fletch” posted, “Very authentic hideout! Complete with simulated bullet holes in the walls, dried blood stains on the floor, and even a wrecked burned out helicopter near-bye (sic). You always get this feeling your being watched …”
Another user, “Sam” wrote, “The service was absolutely terrible, yet on the plus side it’s not terribly touristy. Nearly impossible to find.”
The CIA was tipped off about the compound when it noticed that there was no Internet connection or phone line, while all the surrounding houses did, according to reports.
Online media has played a significant role as the bin Laden story unfolded over the past 24 hours. Along with the comments on Google Maps, users turned to the Web for up-to-date information. Google searches on “Osama bin Laden dead” was the hottest search term across all its properties, with its “hotness” rating (denoting the popularity of the topic) at “On Fire” on May 2, down from its “Volcanic” rating in the evening of May 1. Another common search terms was “osama bin laden killed.”
Yahoo also reported an increase in bin Laden-related searches. Searches on “Pakistan map” spiked 2,594 percent from a week ago, and there was a “huge” spike in searches for “is Osama really dead,” according to Yahoo.
Abbottabad resident Ahmer Mumtaz took advantage of increased interest in his neighborhood to create a WordPress blog with pictures for anyone curious as to what the area, generally a popular tourist stop in Pakistan, really looks like.
Twitter is credited with breaking the news first, as Keith Urbahn, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense David Rumsfeld, posted, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden.”
It turned out the “reputable person” was a well-connected TV news reporter, so Twitter didn’t actually beat the mainstream press to break the story. “Stories about the -death of MSM’ because of my -first’ tweet are greatly exaggerated,” Urbahn later posted. Even so, users shared information and links about the developing story on Twitter and Facebook statuses throughout the day.
Urbahn may not have broken the news, but an IT consultant “taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops,” inadvertently live-blogged the entire operation on Twitter. “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event),” Sohaib Athar wrote on Twitter May 1, as he began posting what was happening, such as the helicopter crash in the compound and the lack of electricity.
“Bin Laden is dead. I didn’t kill him. Please let me sleep now,” Athar wrote, nearly 15 hours later.