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Andy Carvin on the Arab Uprising: My Twitter followers help me gather the news and sort out fact from fiction

Hot Topics Cairo, Egypt - 28 March 2011
[Picture by our Citizenside member geenike. Taken after the abdication of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak]

Andy Carvin, Senior Strategist for the Social Media Desk at NPR (the American National Public Radio), communicates daily with those experiencing the revolutions in North Africa. No, he isn't protesting next to the Egyptians - and, no - he's not calling the Libyans everyday, either. The way in which Andy Carvin stays up to date with the Arab revolutions better than most news sources is through Twitter. Averaging 300 tweets per day (maxing out at 1,300), Carvin has become the go to source for up to the minute news on Egypt, Libya, Yemen, etc.

Citizenside - What is Twitter to you personally: a means of communication, a social map, a public record, or, perhaps, a type of diary? The way you use it seems to be a hybrid of all these things, but in a way that is perfectly suited to fill the hole left in the media coverage of the Middle Eastern revolutions.

Andy Carvin - It’s really all of the above. Twitter is a community, and all sorts of things take place in a community. It just happens to be one that connects almost all corners of the globe and never completely stops talking, so its potential for newsgathering is still largely untapped.

CS - You’ve been hailed as a type of curator for news coming out of the Orient right now. Would you call this a form of journalism that has evolved with social media? Do you know of anyone else doing this type of work for world news on Twitter or another news medium?

AC - Journalists have always used the tools and networks available to them. If you watch a TV broadcast during breaking news, the anchor will be trying to piece together for the audience what’s going on, and they’re relying on producers, editors and cameramen behind the scenes, and pundits and eyewitnesses in the broadcast. What I’m doing isn’t really different than that, except for the fact that I see my Twitter followers as my producers, editors and cameramen. They help me gather the news, sort out fact from fiction, and get the word out.

"I found US expats that helped me identify potential sources."

CS - How did you, initially, expand your contact list? How do you know that you can trust these people as sources of information? Is it difficult for you reach out to new people in countries such as Libya and Yemen which are more closed off? Are your contacts still expanding? Would this suggest anything to you about the state of unrest in the Arab world?

AC - Each country is different. For Egypt and Tunisia, I already had around half a dozen contacts in each country because of previous interactions with them. From that point, it was a matter of figuring out who else on twitter they communicated with and trusted. Libya was a bit harder, but I found US expats that helped me identify potential sources. All of them have been anonymous, and most of them haven’t tweeted in two weeks, either because they’re offline, in hiding or worse.

CS - What is it about a particular tweet or piece of news that makes you want to use it in your feed? Since you are putting out over 100 tweets a day you must have streamlined your decision process. What would this process look like?

AC - I share tweets with original footage that no one else has seen yet. I retweet people who are in the middle of the action, and use their tweets as a form of oral history, capturing their experiences in real time. I also RT people who claim to have news, either because I think they’re correct, or because I’m skeptical and am asking for confirmation on it, sources, etc.

And actually, I’m averaging around 300 tweets a day – biggest day so far was over 1300.

CS - Do you frequently look back through your tweets as a type of timeline? Do you think you might use your tweets to assemble a full account of the revolutions when they are finished?

AC - Sometimes I do, but it’s hard for even me to keep up with at all. At some point it’ll be great to grab them all and read them day-by day. I probably won’t capture the revolutions 24-7, but it certainly will be representative of my waking hours during that time.

Interview by: Christine Hayden
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