#freemona: Developing story via Twitter

A common complaint in my graduate level journalism class is that social media tools permit non-journalists, who have little or no professional journalism training, to act as reporters and provide ‘news’ which lacks the editing and fact-checking of more professional work. Certainly, watching the many rumors floating around twitter about the suspect identity of the gas used on protestors in Egypt, I would have to agree somewhat with the concern that most non-professionals tend not to adequately check their facts before publishing. But perhaps the medium of twitter, at least, is not so much devoted to news publishing, but is rather a site for gathering the soup of observations and concerns that can be drawn into a more coherent story. I am a huge fan of twitter as a tool for news monitoring, and I especially value its ability to put the ‘viewer’ on the streets, almost, with those people who are tweeting from events anywhere on the planet.

Tonight’s tweets out of Egypt are a nice example of how one can watch stories develop before one’s eyes. In this case, as with many Egypt stories, there are several professional journalists who are actively involved. Blake Hounshell is listed in twitter as the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Nicholas Kristof is a rather well known New York Times columnist. Andy Carvin is listed as senior strategist of NPR. These three men happen to be among the folks I follow, since they seemed to be more informative and actively engaged in the masses of information coming out of the Arab Spring events earlier this year. Earlier tonight, around 7pm MST, a journalist in Egypt, Mona Eltahawy, was arrested, and apparently managed to send a tweet out announcing her arrest.

Mona Eltahawy

Beaten arrested in interior ministry
5 hours ago (via twitter, ~11:20pm MST)
This tweet immediately prompted replies from various people, including Andy Carvin, attempting to confirm her arrest and whether she was in fact ‘beaten’. In the course of the next few minutes both Carvin and Nick Kristof bugged US State Department contacts, and several folks contacted the US Embassy in Cairo. From the fact that the State Department tweeted its concern, at least the arrest was real, and at least one additional person is likely to have been arrested along with Mona Eltahawy. 

A post listed as published at 10:19pm on Huffington Post’s 24/7 blog of the events in Egypt reports that Mona was arrested, and that her tweet prompted a “Twitter-wide frenzy“. Clearly it will be a while yet before anyone knows what will happen concerning the individuals arrested in this story, so without knowing some sort of outcome, it would be premature to write much in any paper about it. Still, it is in part because of international awareness that certain people were released alive and relatively well during the Arab Spring events. Are most media outlets simply not able or willing to cover this sort of developing story? 

Really, the chatter that takes place on twitter may not be indicative of any real power, though there was plenty of blustering going on about this arrest and the ability of observers on twitter to respond quickly. A military government dumb enough or arrogant enough to quell riots with such heavy-handed tactics as the current Egyptian military has been using may not care overly much what the international community says. The US will not go to war with Egypt over the death or mistreatment of one woman, no matter how upset journalists and other concerned observers may be. The Egyptian government currently in place will either remain in place regardless of what the rest of the world says or it will be replaced soon, and those individuals currently in power have little to gain or lose by the release or murder of Mona Eltahawy. If criminal misconduct could be proven, perhaps certain individuals could be prosecuted after the fact, if the military government steps down. For the sake of all those currently held by the military and its police in Egypt, we can only hope that there are still sufficient powers in place to ensure justice in Egypt. I sincerely hope that when I log on to twitter in the morning it will not be to bad news about the outcome of this or any other similar case.


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About Ravenmount

Independent music blogger/arts enthusiast/theorist currently working in Fort Collins, Colorado.
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