News of Osama bin Laden's death was spread via Twitter, beginning with a message by Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff of former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden," he wrote. "Hot damn."
While Urbahn was not the first to tweet the news, he was the one who gained the most trust from the network. So how exactly did this happen? Social Flow, which creates technology to determine the optimal way for companies to tweet, looked at 14.8 million tweets and bitly links to determine how Urbahn's single tweet could be amplified to reach a massive scale. Their study resulted in an amazing visualization of how the news spread in the Twitterverse, and which handles were most responsible.
From Keith Urbahn's tweet, almost 80 people retweeted within a minute, including the New York Times' Brian Stelter, who's twitter handle was the next major hub of the information.
By zooming in on various sections of the visualization, we see how other prominent twitter accounts such as @andylevy, @ObamaNews and @laughingsquid were able to get their followers to retweet and react:
The visualization is accompanied by a fascinating article that details how speculation turned into information over Twitter, including how rumors that President Obama's announcement had to do with Qaddafi rather than Bin Laden rapidly swelled and then decreased around the time of Urbahn's tweet. It also reflects on what makes one trustworthy or influential over Twitter to Urbahn's degree:
Followers, friends or likes represent an aspect of our digital status, but are only a partial representation of our general propensity to be influential. Keith Urbahn wasn’t the first to speculate Bin Laden’s death, but he was the one who gained the most trust from the network. And with that, the perfect situation unfolded, where timing, the right social-professional networked audience, along with a critically relevant piece of information led to an explosion of public affirmation of his trustworthiness.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.