How the Osama bin Laden news spread on Twitter

As this spectacular visualization by SocialFlow reveals, former Rumsfeld chief of staff Keith Urbahn was the Typhoid Mary of the Twitter universe on 1 May when news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed.  At 9.46pm EST, it was announced that President Obama would be making an address to the nation, which began at 11.30pm.  During the intervening 104 minutes, many speculated about what could be so important and urgent as to merit a hastily called address.  At 10.24pm, Urbahn tweeted: “So I’m told by a reputable person that they have killed Osama Bin Laden.  Hot Damn.”  His was not the first to report that bin Laden was dead nor was his Twitter feed (which had just over 1,000 followers) particularly important, but Urbahn was the most trusted person to send the news to someone else (the New York Times reporter Brian Stelter, with 50,000+ followers) who was well connected — and that’s how word spread.  The full breakdown on the SocialFlow site makes for fascinating reading and includes more detailed visualizations.

Not mentioned by SocialFlow but revealed by Rachel Maddow in this interview with Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” (of all places) is the fact that, sometime before the President’s address, the news media was informed by the White House that Osama bin Laden was dead.  Embargoing news is common practice and widely respected but this was big and the temptation to leak it somewhere must have been irresistible — it would be interesting to see if SocialFlow could dig up a visualization of that Twitter flow.

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