The story behind the Gadhafi story: How news of his demise evolved on Twitter

Chase Kell
The Right Click
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It began shortly after 7 a.m. ET on Oct. 20, when news concerning former Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi began to break.

At that time, something major may have taken place in war stricken Libya, but a lack of confirmation and conflicting reports had us all in the fog.

At first, it appeared as if a convoy, likely transporting Gadhafi loyalists, was under attack in or near the embattled leader's hometown of Sirte. Those who served Gadhafi had been holed up in the northern coastal town, but the location of their fearless leader was still unknown.

This is when things quickly became convoluted, to say the least.

Reports suggesting Gadhafi capture began to emerge and for a few hours the news were glued by unconfirmed reports and speculative updates. Twitter, as was the case with the death of Osama bin Laden, quickly became the popular source for updates out of Libya.

Attributing a report to a leader in the transitional government, Reuters stepped it up with news of injuries to Gadhafi's legs. By 7:30 a.m., based on the Reuters report, several media outlets were reporting on Gadhafi's capture, yet we still lacked official confirmation.

Echoing the sentiment of BBC correspondent Matthew Price, an Arab affairs commentator chimed in.

And just as we were awaiting confirmation on Gadhafi's capture, an even larger detail surfaced on Twitter pages abroad. Below is a screengrab from Al Jazeera, via the Columbia Journalism Review, where reports of Gadhafi's capture quickly took a back seat to claims of his death.

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Shortly after the update, one Twitter user mocked Al Jazeera for a conflicting mix of imagery and reporting.

The Gadhafi captured/injured/killed reports were now in full swing, and while everyone seemed to understand the significance, no one knew what to believe.

At this point, any news concerning Gadhafi's capture/injuries/death had been attributed to NTC official(s), or to unnamed sources that, for all we know, could have been from the NTC. Neither NATO forces nor the U.S. State Department appeared to know the truth.

In fact, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was just as shocked and skeptical as the Twitterverse when she was informed of the news during her visit to Pakistan. And she didn't even get wind of the full spectrum of reports.

Still left in the fog, those who had read the tweets, seen the headlines or heard the reports wanted more. Gadhafi hashtags were inundated with frustrated users as commentary on sourcing—and what constitutes legitimate confirmation—became all the rage.

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Here's a quick look at how the Gadhafi story evolved via the Al Jazeera English Twitter feed. The news broke from "injured" to "killed" in just under half an hour.

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And then, just a little before 8:30 a.m. ET, Agence France-Presse released a convincing yet gruesome photo confirming some of the story. Evidence of an injured Gadhafi captured by rebel forces appeared legitimate.

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It's 8:30 a.m. ET, and during the last hour and a half of groundbreaking yet unconfirmed reporting, the New York Times had remained silent on the subject. Until this:

A quick 16 minutes later:

Gruesome photos and video footage of a bloody Gadhafi, laid out on the hood of a truck filled with Libyan rebels, started going viral at this time. Media outlets and Twitter feeds used the footage as confirmation and by 10 a.m. ET most seemed convinced of Gadhafi's death.

Yahoo! News Canada received official confirmation of the news via Reuters just before noon. An official story had put an end to a busy morning of scanning the web and monitoring TweetDeck. Yet, while the Gadhafi tweets were many, one journalist's nostalgic wit really captured the morning's frustration.