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April 23, 2008

'Arrested in Egypt, Saved by Twitter'



That's the gist of Mike Musgrove's April 19, 2008 Washington Post article about one James Karl Buck, a journalism graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley who leveraged the power of Twitter to enable his release from an Egyptian jail last week.

Here's the story.

    Held by Egyptian Authorities? Time to 'Tweet'

    James Karl Buck says he has Twitter to thank for his freedom.

    Buck, a journalism grad student, was arrested in Egypt last week, and his only communication to the outside world was through his cellphone, which he used to post a message on the micro-blogging site.

    "Arrested," he typed into his phone, a message that broadcast via the Web to his friends in the United States and bloggers in Egypt.

    Buck was detained after photographing a labor rally near a textile mill in Mahalla, a few hours from Cairo, the capital. The grounds for his arrest were not made clear to him, he said, though the men who detained him said he may have been inciting a riot.

    Twitter, a social-networking site, lets its users constantly update, or "tweet," their friends, acquaintances and potentially anybody else with a Web connection, with short, often mundane messages like "heading to the library," "feeling sad" or "working late." Entries are limited to 140 characters, so the typical update is only a sentence or two, like a super-short blog. The free service launched in July 2006.

    After Buck, who was in Egypt for a school research project, sent a tweet that he had been detained, his friends contacted the U.S. Embassy and his school, the University of California at Berkeley, which sent a lawyer to get him out of jail.

    A spokeswoman for the State Department said yesterday that the agency helped secure Buck's release.

    Buck's translator, Mohammed Maree, was also detained, the student said. Attiya A. Shakran, a spokesman for the Egyptian consulate in San Francisco, did not comment on Buck's arrest other than to say that Maree has been released.

    Buck said he used his phone's texting feature rather than make a call because he figured it would draw less attention.

    "I'm not big on 'What's the new techno-gadget of the week?' " he said. In this case, though, he said he "came to realize how important a tool like Twitter is."

    The ability to communicate with the world via text messages helped assuage fears he would "fall into a black hole," he said. "Whether it saved my life, or whether it just kept me sane, I don't know."

    Buck hadn't used Twitter for very long before his trip. Ironically, his research in Egypt focused on bloggers and journalists who use such tools to keep up with news.

    Biz Stone, a co-founder of Twitter, said he and some of the service's early users knew that it could be useful in emergencies because they used it to stay in touch after minor earthquakes in the Bay Area.

    "Sometimes people take a look at it and aren't sure how it fits into their life," he said. "This kind of story paints a nice picture of a particular use case."


After reading this article I got all fired up and decided to see if using my Twitter account was any easier now than when I first signed up back in 2006.

Back then it was mos def TechnoDolt™-unfriendly, which is why I bagged it.

In the meantime I've continued to get emails from Twitter letting me know about the latest fan to be following my tweets — I'm up to 14 people now (top).

Too bad I never tweet.

Anyway, I went to the site, logged in and then tried to send a tweet from my cell phone.

25 minutes later, thoroughly annoyed and irritated, I succeeded.

Bag that, I'm just gonna avoid Egyptian jails — seems a heckuva lot easier than sending a message to my Twitter page.

Sorry, gang.

April 23, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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