Researchers have proved that the tweet that broke the news of Osama bin Laden’s death was trusted because the author was viewed as a reliable source.

The study also proves that the Twitterverse was overwhelmingly convinced the news was true even before it was confirmed on television, sending more than 5,000 tweets per second.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have analysed more than 600,000 tweets sent during a two-hour period after bin Laden’s death on 1 May 2011.

It has been reported that US Special Forces killed bin Laden between 4pm and 4.30pm EST. President Obama was briefed at about 7pm on the ‘high probability’ that he had been killed.

The first tweet to confirm the news was sent at 10.24pm by Keith Urbahn (@keithurbahn), an aide to America’s former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who currently has more than 8,000 followers. It read: ‘So I’m told by a reputable source that they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot Damn.’

Eight minutes later, a CBS producer @jacksonjk tweeted her confirmation. Both were retweeted by a New York Times reporter, @brianstelter, causing the news to spread more widely.

Mengdie Hu, the researcher who led the study, said: ‘Rumours spreading on Twitter is one thing. Determining if they are true is another, especially in this era of social media and the rush to break news.’

Her team categorised the tweets sent within minutes of Urbahn’s revelation as either certain, uncertain or irrelevant.

If a tweet mentioned the death as a fact or in very confident terms, it was classified as ‘certain’, but if it included any hesitation or rumours, it was classified as ‘uncertain’.

Within minutes of Urbahn’s post, 50 per cent of tweets were certain. By the time TV networks broke into programming 21 minutes later, nearly 80 per cent were already sure that bin Laden was dead. The number peaked to just over 80 per cent after TV made it official.

‘We believe Twitter was so quick to trust the rumours because of who sent the first few tweets,’ said Hu.

‘They came from reputable sources. It’s unlikely that a CBS News producer or New York Times reporter would spread rumors of something so important and risk jeopardising their reputation. Twitter saw their credentials and quickly believed the news was true.’

The research also found that, while the topic dominated Twitter, a group of 100 ‘elite users’, such as CNN, CNN Espanol and the New York Times, actually drove the discussion. Nearly one in five of all tweets cited one of these elite users.

However, the report also found that, within half an hour of the television confirmation, celebrities, such as comedian Steve Martin, had entered the discussion and swiftly started to dominate. Researchers found that they celebrities ‘stayed the longest and brought the most guests’.

Source: CorpComms

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