Bin Laden’s Death: Twitter Killed It


That Twitter is an impressive distribution network for breaking news is increasingly a given; however its sheer ubiquity for the immediacy of big events is now also leading to some intriguing analyses about the patterns and speed with which its network disseminates information.

SocialFlow, a small company based in New York City, looked at 14.8 million individual tweets and links to analyze how the speculation and news of Bin Laden’s death spread across the twitterverse.  How did the few speculative tweets on the nature of a forthcoming presidential address so effectively and accurately spread this news?

In retrospect, the key event seems to be a tweet by Keith Urbahn, former Chief of Staff to Rumsfeld. However Urbahn lacked a critical mass of followers. Until network effects took over:

The rate at which Keith’s message spread was staggering. Within a minute, more than 80 people had already reposted the message, [including a prominent reporter]. Within two minutes, over 300 reactions to the original post were spreading through the network.

The spread of this news – even with modest assumptions – is remarkable, and it is likely that within five minutes, Urbahn’s tweet had reached some 25,000 people. SocialFlow does a nice job with some graphics showing the spread of information – pictures that look more like a series of comets spreading across a sky. This is the way that information now moves, not with a whimper, but with a bang.