How Twitter Was Fooled Into Thinking bin Laden Watched The IT Crowd and Big Bang Theory

Amidst stories of war-dogs, secret choppers, and hard drives chockablock with porn, there was a small furore on Twitter about Osama bin Laden watching hit UK TV show The IT Crowd—or was it Big Bang Theory? Turns out, it was all an elaborate hoax by The IT Crowd's writer.

We all know how Chinese Whispers goes. With the advent of Twitter, stories spread like wildfire, twisting and bending as they go. The IT Crowd's writer (and Father Ted creator) Graham Linehan was aware of this, and decided to conjure up a story about how "in some of the videos seized from his compound during the Navy Seals raid, Osama Bin Laden was watching my sitcom The IT Crowd."

Twitter naturally ran with it, taking Linehan's well-manipulated story as gospel.

So how did a comedy writer with just over 100,000 followers trick the world? Linehan pulled a page from any 16 year old gossip's book, saying "it appears that one good way of starting a rumour is to pretend that the story is already circulating," and tweeted on May 7th:

Does anyone have confirmation that Osama was watching The IT Crowd in these home movies? Amazing if true. Don't know how to feel

Adding to the drama, Linehan added speech-marks to another tweet, as if he'd picked the quote up from a news outlet:

"...seen in several videos watching and mouthing dialogue from the cult Channel 4 sitcom. Unbelievable." #itcrowd #OBL

Admitting today that "the magic of quote marks meant that this was met with nothing but genuine interest and a definite, hushed sense of "this is really big news," Linehan's tweets soon spread around the world, with other Twitter users and fans of the TV show speculating on the earth-shattering news. Linehan retweeted some choice remarks, to make it look like the news was very much "known," rather than a simple fabrication on his end. People then started asking him to provide his sources:

Weirdly, reference has been removed. Security reasons? http://tpm.ly/kqmhdq RT @YC19916: can you send a link to this article?

The website he linked to, Talking Points Memo, obviously never had a reference to The IT Crowd in the first place. That didn't matter to his followers though, who were still busy marvelling over the news. One user, @GavRov bent the truth slightly, and changed the nature of Linehan's little game:

Osama Bin Laden was watching The IT Crowd when they got him apparently

Linehan must've been beside himself with laughter at this point, and decided to stir the pot even more:

Still totally shocked/confused about #OBL #itcrowd news. Phone ringing every 5 mins w another journo asking for quote. Signing off for now

At this point, news sites started picking up the story, which caused some worry for Linehan. Deciding to 'fess up, he thought he'd have a couple more stabs at rousing the general public again:

Have been sent a video file by Irish embassy in Washington of Bin Laden watching #itcrowd. Not allowed to upload. #OBL

Guy who worked for embassy very nice. Said 'You have no reason to feel upset. His liking show is no comment on your work'." #OBL

Bin Laden sitting in front of TV with remote. My heart is in my mouth. Can't really see screen, which is frustrating." #OBL #itcrowd

Music coming from the television very distorted (pirate copy?). Unrecognisable, almost" #OBL #itcrowd

So weird. This isn't the #itcrowd theme. Do pirates put diff music on shows in middle east?" #OBL

Good idea. RT: @terktz why don't you use Shazam to find out what music it is?" #OBL #itcrowd

Shazam didn't work at first. Now has result as Theme From Big Bang Theory That's weird." #OBL #itcrowd

Linehan could see the end in sight—and passing the buck to the US' rip-off TV show Big Bang Theory was an easy escape route. Or so he thought, until a friend, @mike_ftw (NSFW link) "leaked" a photo of bin Laden "watching" The IT Crowd (pictured above.)

Linehan then decided to end things once and for all, 'fessing up to his deeds on his Posterous, marvelling that "it's scary what Twitter can do. You can't get more offline than my mother, and even she said to my brother, the day after the story "broke", "Did you hear about your brother and Osama?"" Now, the whole world has heard about Linehan and Osama. [@Glinner and Posterous via BBC]