The Crazy Life of a Tweet

On the evening of May 1st, Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. Over the following hours (and days), bin Laden was mentioned by millions across the twitterverse. Among the first of those tweets came from a young, gay, homeschooled man named Josh from a conservative, Christian,  military family in Indianapolis.

 He used and continues to use the twitter name “Calebressas,” and currently has a moderately low klout score of 31. Nevertheless, on the evening of the 1st, he tweeted, “2011: US allows gays into the army. Later in 2011: US army kills bin laden. WAY TO GO GAYS.” Moments later his tweet went viral and in his own words, his twitter was “Blowing up!!!!!”

Thousands of twitter users began retweeting his words, sometimes citing him and sometimes not. It is not possible to identify if anyone actually tweeted this prior to Josh. Josh’s tweet is our best guess. Additionally, it is difficult to tell how many retweeted his words, as many retweets altered his original form.

One way in which this tweet changed was when one user switched the tweet’s final word from “Gays” to the words “Gay People.” We are not sure exactly when this happened and who made this change, but we can say – for certain – that it was a man named Bill Taylor (@billytwitty, klout=39) whose version of this tweet also went viral. Thousands more saw this version, though Josh likely didn’t know it.

Soon after this, as bin Laden’s name was mentioned like rapid-fire, a girl named Desi (@desilove, klout=38) retweeted the same viral tweet that Bill Taylor sent across the twitterverse. (Whether Desi saw it from Bill Taylor is also unknown.) And finally, at 12:48am EST on May 2nd, a fellow named Alan Yanuard using the twitter name “Aquayers,” having seen Desi’s tweet, tweeted this: “RT @desilove: 2011: US allows gays into the army. Later in 2011: US army kills bin laden. WELL DONE GAY PEOPLE!”

DiscoverText ingested millions of bin Laden tweets that night using the Twitter API, and five month later, the Qualitative Data Analysis Program at UMASS recruited nearly 30 “crowdsourcers” to find the funniest tweet. Over 22,000 tweets were sorted and Alan Yanuard’s tweet made it into the top 6. From there, Stu Shulman presented those six bin Laden tweets to the Association of Internet Researchers, where the audience members tweeted their favorite. The votes were entered and Alan Yanuard’s tweet was the winner

And so ends the life of this bin Laden tweet. Congratulations to Amanda Crosby who uncovered this tweet (#18542) and will be awarded $100; and thank you to all of our tweeters, coders, voters, and dissenters, without whom this project would not have been possible.

About Josh Sowalsky

Josh Sowalsky is the Director of User Support at Texifter, where he has worked since September 2010. He holds two degrees in Political Science and Middle Eastern Studies from UMASS Amherst, where he minored in History, Arabic, and International Relations. While at UMASS Josh designed and taught an advanced course that examined the intersection of technological development and national identity formation. Serving also as a research assistant in the UMASS Political Science department, he researched and published articles on electoral politics and political dissent in Jordan. Josh has conducted and presented multilingual field research on civil society development, democratization, and national identity formation throughout the Middle East - namely in Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. His honors thesis was entitled, "The Role of Women's Rights NGOs in Syrian Democratization." When not managing projects in QDAP or harvesting Arabic protest tweets in DiscoverText, Josh can be found strumming a ukulele, exploring Netflix, or swinging aimlessly at tennis balls.
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