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Role of Twitter in Bin Laden death reporting examined

John Moe Apr 30, 2012

It’s been a year since Osama Bin Laden was killed in a raid by American Navy Seals. I’m still impressed that a seal could figure out how to hold a gun, much less fire one, but then again I’ve seen them do some pretty amazing things at Sea World. When the raid happened, the news was first Tweeted by Keith Urbahn, a former aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It was then shared by CBS News producer Jill Jackson, then Brian Stetler of the New York Times, at which point it started to go viral rapidly on Twitter.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have studied how reliable Twitter was as a news source in the wake of this information and used the Bin Laden killing as a test case.

To find out, the researchers examined 400,000 tweets sent in a two-hour period starting just minutes before Urbahn’s infamous tweet.
They sorted the tweets into three categories — certain, uncertain and irrelevant.
What they found is that just minutes after Urbahn’s tweet, 50% of the people tweeting about the death of Osama bin Laden were tweeting about it as if it were a certain fact.
By the time the television stations started reporting on Bin Laden’s death, at 10:45 p.m., 80% of tweets on the subject were categorized as certain.

The researchers say that this was a surprisingly high number but the fact that the original sources were Washington insiders and journalists from familiar news organizations gave it a high level of trust.

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