With American and European military action in Libya, we've entered a new phase in the Arab uprisings. Extracting and spreading facts from the smokey tumult will become more difficult and more crucial. Here's how you can help.
The initial organizing for these revolts began on Facebook and Twitter, and even now with international news organizations—and their government minders—wandering the battlefields of Libya, social media remains the best source for instant unfiltered updates on the ground from the protesters, foreign correspondents, and tech-savvy bystanders.
We've created four Twitter lists that you can follow to stay abreast of the breaking news, and, probably, find a few perspectives, photos, and cries for help that won't make it to American mainstream media. Retweet as you see fit.
This list is a general news feed for all of the Arab uprisings. It has many regional newspapers and individuals who are exceptional at retweeting local protesters, NGOs, and other first hand news sources. Of the lists collected here, this one is the most filtered and has the most journalists, several based outside the region. Follow this one if you want the broad strokes without too much clutter; the other lists are a scrappier lot.
I created the Egypt list first. It's the most robust, and I have been in contact with several of the revolutionaries who camped in Tahrir Square because of it. They're an inspiring, idealistic, and accessible bunch in my experience. I trust you will find the same if you begin to follow them.
Who's on the list: Mosa'ab Elshamy is a pharmacy student and photographer. He seems to be tweeting photos from every major event that happens anywhere near Cairo and frequently reports on events before the newswires. When I asked several Tahrir tweeters for details about a rumor I heard about kids in the square, he sent back this fantastic account of the pop-up kindergarten in the square.
Lauren Bohn, an American Fulbright scholar and budding journalist, is moving around the region and tweeting up a storm wherever she is. So is her friend, Egyptian university student Ghazala Irshad who is quite skilled at the RT. This list also includes the big names of the revolution like Wael Ghonim, Google executive and rallying force behind the Facebook page that helped organize the initial protests, Mohammad El Baradei, likely presidential candidate, and others of that official ilk.
This list is not nearly so robust, nor am I in personal touch with the members yet. So please suggest additions or deletions. It includes journalists and rebels, supporters and observers, analysts and partisans—but the mix is weighted heavily towards pro-rebel tweeters. Many of them are tweeting anonymously and without revealing location information or how they are connecting to the internet, making it hard to confirm facts.
Who's on the list: A central source of news from the revolutionary side is the Libyan Youth Movement, a group based in and out of Libya—who also have a Facebook page—sharing any and all news they can. They got a bump in attention when Egypt's Wael Ghonim suggested we all follow them for #Libya updates.
There are also several other collectives of revolutionaries, a few human rights workers, and a handful of outspoken individuals tweeting the news. For example, @Cyrenaican is a feisty young Libyan in his early 20s from Benghazi offering a mix of facts about fallen comrades, RTs from news sources, and revolutionary rhetoric that gives you a taste of rebel determination and experience. He recently tweeted about surviving an attack:
"Yesterday, in the middle of the night, the checkpoint i stay at was sprayed by 4 individuals in a car w/ AK's and a 14.5 anti aircraft gun."
This list has more official government sources because Bahrain's various ministries are all tweeting under their own names in a kind of foil to protesters' streams. Seeing both gives a broader picture, but like everything on Twitter, you have to use your own judgment about what to trust. I'll be adding to this as I find newer sources.
Let us know if these are helpful or not. And please do send us notes of anyone we should add to these lists via the comments section below, or to me personally on Twitter.
Fun side note: You can watch foreign correspondents of major news outlets tracking down their sources through these twittering witnesses to history too if you look carefully. Here's the BBC reaching out to Libyans. Twitter is good for lots of things for lots of people. Not so much for dictators just yet.
Image: Rebel fighters outside Brega, Libya. From Wikimedia Commons