The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

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Andy Carvin (@acarvin), senior strategist for NPR's social media desk, discusses his recent work on Twitter. He's been tweeting about protests in Egypt and Tunisia, now Libya and Bahrain. Carvin has sought multiple sources on the ground and reported on the minute-by-minute revelations.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. And it's time now for All Tech Considered. Hearing some scary rumors about stuff going bad in Tripoli right now. Anyone know anything concrete yet? That is a tweet from Andy Carvin, a senior strategist for NPR's social media desk. Minute by minute, he is gathering and posting updates about Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, curating both the concrete and the not-so-concrete on his Twitter feed. Andy Carvin joins us now, and he may in fact be tweeting as we speak. Are you?

ANDY CARVIN: I've actually closed my laptop just for a few minutes.

SIEGEL: I'm honored. What's the latest that you're hearing from Libya?

CARVIN: Well, I'm hearing a lot of chaos, to be frank. There are a number of people who are either tweeting directly from Libya; more often, though, it seems there are people who are getting information relayed via phone and email and then they're passing them along.

There are lots of rumors going around about more mercenaries being brought in from other African countries. Rumors of bombings that have happened, from airplanes, and shooting from helicopters. It's just really tough to put together what's true and what's not, simply because the country is so closed off. But it seems pretty clear from the Libyans who have been tweeting there, they're scared to death right now.

SIEGEL: How does this work, Andy? Do you find your sources to follow and then re-tweet them? What happens?

CARVIN: Typically what happens is I start in a country and just think about who are the people that I already know. So, for example, during the Egyptian and the Tunisian uprisings, I had a lot of contacts in each country, at least half a dozen or so that I felt comfortable re-tweeting. And then as time goes by, you get a sense of who they trust as well. Who are they talking to? Who are they re-tweeting?

Libya has been a lot more complex because there aren't many people there who are on Twitter, rumors of it being shut down altogether. And so, it's been tough. I've had to essentially start from scratch in order to find some sources there. But fortunately, there do seem to be some, including one young man who's been sending out a live video stream. He's questions via phone calls and reporting what he's hearing from friends around the country. And it's been absolutely riveting.

SIEGEL: Andy, when you were following events in Egypt, there, one could judge the reliability of sources, say, after 24 hours you could see if what they had been telling you had been confirmed by other sources. Here in Libya, we don't have that kind of openness. We just have very few eyes and ears about what's going on in the country.

CARVIN: It's nowhere even close. If you think about what happened several days ago in Bahrain, when forces opened fire on people gathering in Pearl Circle, I was actually sitting down at a restaurant when I checked my phone. And all of a sudden, I saw at least a half a dozen of my sources essentially screaming over Twitter, oh my God, there are gunshots, what's going on? People are running. And so, literally, in real time I got to experience what was going on vicariously through Twitter.

SIEGEL: Who's reading your tweets?

CARVIN: Well, right now I have somewhere around 25,000 followers. It's an interesting mix of people. I've been on Twitter for just over four years now. And a number of people follow me from human rights groups, reporters from around the world, people who work in disaster response. Then there are all the usual bloggers and Twitter people and social media people. And then over the last week or so, I've gotten a lot of new followers simply because of the reporting I've been doing as well.

SIEGEL: You carried a message today from someone whose Twitter name was Tripolitanian in which he talked about army, police, mercs shooting anyone who was on the streets. I heard someone on Al-Jazeera English describing very much the same thing. Do we know if those are two different people, or might they indeed be the same person? Do you know that much about the people you're hearing from?

CARVIN: I know about some of them, but certainly not all of them. If you take a look at people who are tweeting from Libya, almost all of them are anonymous. They're clearly scared for their lives and the lives of their families. One thing that's been very helpful is I know some people in the Libyan expat community here in the U.S. and they've been helping me piece together online context on who's who.

And so, often what I'm hearing through back channels from them seems to reflect what these other people are saying publicly via Twitter. And then usually a few hours later you start hearing mainstream media sources essentially quoting the same thing.

So, so far they've been fairly reliable. But, you know, at the same time they admit that a lot of the stuff that they're talking about are rumors. And you'll see two different people on Twitter saying exactly contradictory things with each other. You really have to take some of it with a grain of salt, but at the same time realize they're doing their best. They're not professional journalists. They're just trying to get information out as quickly as possible.

SIEGEL: That's Andy Carvin, senior strategist for NPR's social media desk, talking about tweets out of the Middle East and North Africa. Thank you, Andy.

CARVIN: My pleasure.

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