The Revolution Will Be Twittered
From underground bloggers to corporations, everyone is "tweeting."
April 29, 2008 — -- Before traveling to Egypt to work on his graduate school thesis, James Buck, a 29-year-old American student at the University of California Berkeley, had never heard of the social blogging site Twitter. But after a run-in with Egyptian police, Buck says that the relatively new technology may have saved his life.
On April 10, the day before Buck was to head back home from a three-week assignment studying the Egyptian blogosphere, he traveled to Mahalla, Egypt, with his translator Mohammed, to take photos of a protest there.
"I was trying to take some photos of this small protest and trying to be very clear that I was not in the protest," Buck said from California. "It was very tense."
During his trip, Buck began using Twitter, which allows users to send out 140-character messages to their Twitter feed via e-mail, instant messaging or cell phone text-messaging. Twitter operates somewhat like a personal RSS feed; people who subscribe to your feed will receive all of the messages you send out.
As Buck and his translator tried to leave the protest in a taxi, Buck says they were chased and then detained by Egyptian police. As their cab driver drove the pair to the police station under direction by the police, Buck sent out a single-word message from his cell phone to his Twitter feed: Arrested.
"I sent it to 10 different people, including Twitter. Right away I got [text messages] back from people saying, 'Right now? What do we do?'" Buck said. "I made use of sort of every second I could, trying to tell them to call the embassy immediately."
Twenty-four hours later, with help from the Egyptian bloggers who received the message and alerted his university and the U.S. Embassy, Buck walked out of the police station a free man. His translator Mohammad was left behind.
"If I hadn't been able to get a message to the outside world instantly and to a wide network of people, there's certainly a good chance I would still be there," Buck said.