How the CIA missed the mark live-tweeting the anniversary of bin Laden's death

The CIA live-tweeted, minute by minute, the events of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday afternoon. Many social media users thought it was inappropriate.

The CIA drew the ire of some social media users on Sunday afternoon with its live-tweeting session making the fifth anniversary of the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The tweets followed the timeline of the mission to the minute, posting the movements of the Navy SEALs who carried out the raid and when information was received.

Many Twitter users were outraged, with some calling it inappropriate, distasteful, and unnecessary, and others saying the CIA should delete its account. Several people likened it to live-tweeting the Pearl Harbor attacks or President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Some questioned what the agency’s PR team was thinking.

PR and social media experts acknowledged the agency’s attempt to spread information on Twitter, but said its execution went awry.

Ryan Brack, SVP at Mercury, noted that live tweeting can be risky to begin with, and that is only amplified when the subject is politically charged. He added that organizations need to have a backup plan if the live tweeting turns negative, which he said the CIA probably didn’t do.

"In the case of the CIA pushing out ‘live tweets’ to commemorate the Osama bin Laden mission, they likely meant to mark the occasion by providing details and insight into a secretive operation that some criticized as opaque," Brack said. "They can still claim victory on the transparency front – a quality we should encourage all governments to embed in more of their digital operations."

However, Michael Brito, SVP of digital marketing at Lewis Pulse, said the CIA seemed to have fallen in the same social media trap as brands: lacking content, especially considering it can’t be entirely transparent about its work.

"Originally, I think the CIA’s goal was to inform the public about the raid on [bin Laden’s] compound," Brito said. "To replay the incident on the fifth anniversary clearly shows that the CIA has nothing else really to say as a part of their content strategy so they are recycling old content."

The CIA’s Twitter account is an enigma, a public-facing platform for a covert agency. When launched in February 2014, the account raised eyebrows with its lighthearted and funny tweets. The government agency made light of its serious work, and felt the backlash.

"At the end of the day, we are talking about the taking of a human life," Brito said. "As bad as [bin Laden] was, I don’t feel that live-tweeting his death is the right thing to do."

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