How Word of Osama Bin Laden’s Death Spread Online

AFP/Getty Images

A tweet from the chief of staff for former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld helped get the word out before President Obama’s speech.

NEW YORK – Word of Osama bin Laden’s death started spreading on Twitter and other social media sites Sunday night even before President Obama made a formal statement confirming the news around 11:35pm EST.

Just like a notification to the press corps, a 9:45pm Sunday Twitter note from White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer didn’t share any details. “POTUS to address the nation tonight at 10:30 p.m. Eastern Time,” he wrote in reference to the President of the United States, according to the New York Times.

It said that reporters in Washington suspected almost immediately that the announcement could be about bin Laden, and rumors started emerging online.

But at 10:25pm, one tweet seemed to confirm the hope and was credited with breaking the news, according to the paper. “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn,” Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, wrote in his tweet. He added: “Don’t know if it’s true, but let’s pray it is.”

Right after that, anonymous sources at the Pentagon and the White House started to confirm to reporters that bin Laden was indeed dead. ABC, CBS and NBC interrupted their regular programming around 10:45pm to share the news.

“This story started to leak out in the public domain largely when some Congressional staffers started to make phone calls,” Brian Williams said on NBC.

It all became official when President Obama appeared on TV shortly after 11:30pm.

Said Urbahn via Twitter: “Appreciate all the RTs and props, but this moment belongs to Pres. Obama and the thousands who dedicated careers & lives to this fight.”