Tweets from Tahrir

“I’m not interested in what you had for lunch.”

That’s the kind of complaint I hear often from Twitter skeptics. They’re partially right — there’s a lot garbage on Twitter.

But Twitter can also act as a vital news service, of course. MPR News uses two accounts to share critical information during severe weather, for example: @MPRnews and @MPRweather, where we share storm warnings and watches, damage reports and photos, and rebroadcast Tweets we read during storms. For example, these Tweets from the May 22 tornado in Minneapolis:

Minneapolis Mayor Rybak asking people to stay away from north Minneapolis. Too many gawkers are impeding public safety efforts… #mnstormsless than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet Reply

Our audiences seems to appreciate our Twitter efforts:

Gotta say, Twitter is the best place to get weather information these days. @MPRnews does a good job of retweeting.less than a minute ago via Twitter for Mac Favorite Retweet Reply

But here’s an even better example of Twitter’s utility and import: Tweets from Tahrir.


Cory Doctorow over at BoingBoing writes about a new book that collects Tweets from the scene of the Egyptian uprising. Excerpt:

… through this book, a picture of Twitter as a means of quickly bridging together different constituencies emerges — not everyone was tweeting, but everyone knew people who were tweeting, whether they were in the Square, discovering what was going on elsewhere among the hundreds of thousands of people; or elsewhere in Cairo and wondering if they should take to the streets; or watching from around the world. Twitter, text messages, Facebook and phone calls became a way of shaping the narrative, rebutting the official state media, arguing about the purpose and character of the uprising, and deciding when to hold fast and when to retreat …

Tweets from Tahrir is an extraordinary record of an extraordinary moment in history, a collection of first-person observations and reflections that took place in realtime that constitute a new kind of record of social upheaval.

Social media and human rights, and the use of social media to help dispense of repressive regimes, is the topic of Midmorning tomorrow. It should be an interesting program. What do you think — is social media a human right?

  • Joanna

    This book looks fascinating! I have been following several Twitter sources for news from the Middle East, so seeing it laid out in a book will complete the picture.

    When the tornado sirens went off in Minneapolis, I was shopping with my child. We took shelter in Calhoun Square and I immediately found out where the storm was located and how far away it was from us by looking at my Twitter feed (which includes @MPRnews). As I looked around, I saw several other people turning to their mobile devices to get storm news, maybe from Facebook or web pages as well as Twitter.

  • Jamison

    Since the cell phone network is much more resilient than the power grid in my Fridley neighborhood Twitter and MPR’s streaming service were vital to me on Sunday during the storm.