Wired Pursuits

How Twitter became a "Get out of Jail Free" card for a student in Egypt

Posted on: April 26, 2008

Sometimes it’s hard to accurately describe how the world in changing due to social media and the power of the Internet to connect people in a real-time way.  It’s a shift in how you think about being “connected”.  ­

I’m always looking for examples of real events and uses to help better illustrate what’s changed.  Here’s a story that totally does that for me.

A Berkeley graduate student, James Buck, was in Egypt doing a project for his masters degree thesis on Egypt’s “new leftists and the blogosphere”.  He was using Twitter and a blog to keep everyone up-to-date on what he was doing and where he was.

Through Twitter, he heard that a planned protest against high food priced and low wages had been shut down by the authorities, and many of the individual involved in the planning had been detained.  Family and friends of those detained created a protest of their own and things got pretty heated.

Buck when to cover the protest and wisely stayed away from the fray so he wouldn’t be mistaken for a protester.  But not far enough as he and his friend were detained and questioned.  Worried that he be “off the grid”, he Twittered the word “arrested” from the back of the police car on his way to the station.

That single word started a chain of events, alerting Buck’s friends on two continents (US and in Egypt) instantly that he was being detained.  His friends used the web to get the word out and document what was happening.  Buck was also able to send hourly updated letting his friends know he was ok and what was going on.

Eventually Buck was release, Twittering “free” as he left the jail.

That’s incredible.  Read the entire story on CNN.com.

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