TwitterTwitter said Monday that it recorded the highest sustained volume of messages in its history around the time of the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death by the White House.

This time, though, Twitter didn’t just share the news, it was also an element of the story. Users around the world sent an average of 3,440 tweets per second from 10:45 p.m. EST, the time the major networks reported bin Laden’s death, to 1:30 a.m., about 45 minutes after the conclusion of President Barack Obama’s address to the nation.

“It’s hard to predict a tipping point at any moment in time, but I do think the death of Osama bin Laden will become another critical milestone in Twitter’s history, whatever that says about us as a culture,” said Susan Etlinger, an analyst with the Altimeter Group. “At least what’s clear is we are speaking collectively to each other in large enough numbers that we can very quickly assimilate and understand news in a way that hasn’t been possible before.”

Etlinger and others said the death of bin Laden and the reawakened memories of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were the story, not Twitter. But the two seemed impossible to separate from late Sunday through early Monday.

A 33-year-old Pakistani programmer named Sohaib Athar, taking a break from work in the city where U.S. commandos stormed bin Laden’s compound, became the self-described “guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it,” describing it on Twitter as it happened. A tweet reporting bin Laden’s death by the chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield ignited online buzz more than 20 minutes before the major networks had the story, leading to speculation that social media had once and for all eclipsed the mainstream media as a breaking news source.

With analytics companies like San Francisco-based ReSearch.ly able to decode in real time the vast streams of tweets and Facebook posts coming from distinct countries around the world, Twitter provided an instant gauge for the different emotions people from Pakistan to France to the U.S. were feeling about the news.

“During the time of the 9/11 attack, reactions were obviously something that was presented by the news media,” said Jessica Gasthalter, head of business development for ReSearch.ly. “Now we have the chance to see the reaction of people at that personal level as it’s happening.”

Within two hours of Obama’s announcement, the microblogging site was used to deliver malicious software, as scammers tweeted photos and videos that had been doctored to appear to show the corpse of the terrorist leader. In fact, clicking on those links would download malware to a user’s computer, said Michael Sutton, vice president of security research for Sunnyvale software security firm Zscaler. (Zscaler is following scams at http://research.zscaler.com).

Twitter declined to comment Monday, with a spokesman saying the company wanted to stay out of spotlight of world events. The company did release data on the number of thoughts, rants, observations and memories of bin Laden’s death and Sept. 11 that boiled across Twitter from all corners of the planet late Sunday. (Even gallows humor was in the mix: The top retweet on Twitter according to ReSearch.ly, was from “@GhostOsama: Well, this sucks … I accidentally enabled location on my tweets.”)

Twitter said the peak of over 5,000 Tweets per second before Obama spoke and as he wrapped up his address to the nation were about 1,000 Tweets per second more than the peaks during the Royal wedding on Friday and during this year’s Super Bowl, but were still lower than the day of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami on March 11.

After Rumseld’s staffer Keith Urbahn disclosed Monday that his source of initial bin Laden rumor had been a “connected network TV news producer,” even Twitter co-founder Biz Stone weighed in to downplay the demise of the mainstream media at the hands of Twitter.

“Twitter Does Not Supplant Other Media, It Amplifies It,” Stone wrote, quoting a TechCrunch story. He did it on Twitter, of course.

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.