A Conversation With the Man Who Tweets Revolutions

Friday, February 01, 2013


Throughout the months of the Arab Spring, the twitter feed of NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin was a one stop shop for keeping up with events in the region--even though Carvin was a world away in Washington D.C. Now Carvin has written a new book about his experience, Distant Witness: Social Media, the Arab Spring and a Journalism Revolution, and sat down with Brooke for a live event to discuss his reporting with social media.


Mazen Dha Nahar el Youm


Andy Carvin

Hosted by:

Brooke Gladstone

Comments [7]

B.J. Dodge from Long Beach, CA

What does the markratledge person who claims Andy Carvin has no "authority" mean? The whole notion of authority is out the window now. We tweet the world, and it's up to the individual to filter the mass of information and decide what's true and/or of interest, and what will feed our imaginative picture of what's happening on the ground. Yes, Carvin had the authority to aggregate and collate what was out there: a whole sky full of birds, and it seems (I will read the book) that he did so in a journalistically careful and ethical - if sometimes naive - way. Also: why does Nathan King need there to be an either/or with regard to who made the revolution happen? It takes loud voices to get the feet moving, and it seems that this collaboration is what not only made the revolution, but continues to stir the pot of activism in light of the disappointing Morsi/Muslim Brotherhood government.

Feb. 09 2013 05:19 PM
Will Caxton

BROOKE GLADSTONE: "As you've said, you tweet revolutions, but you weren't in Tunisia on December 17th, 2010, when the spark was lit that eventually consumed Egypt and Bahrain and Libya and Yemen and Syria."

That seems a really unfortunate choice of words, given that the Arab Spring was started when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest. I hope the pun was unintentional.

Feb. 06 2013 09:18 PM
Peter from New Hampshire

I found this to be a *really* interesting conversation. Is Carvin a journalist? Is what he tweets news? Nah, probably not. What he does is provide a selective aggregation service. You could probably write code to do what he does.

What I found *most* interesting in the part of the interview that was played on the radio was his story about the 15 year old in Florida. This kid was one of his "go to" guys for arms and munitions (was it?) and had reportedly sourced, aggregated, and published field guides on weapons and first aid that were used in the Libyan revolution.

Of course, this proves that on the internet "nobody knows you're a dog." Doesn't this story point to a few interesting flaws in the whole concept of Twitter aggregation as journalism: (a) Were the guides this kid published ACTUALLY authoritative? The people who were using them certainly HOPED they were, I'm sure... but they have no way to know, (b) From a whole other angle, is this story about the 15 year old really TRUE? What did he publish and where? Were these guides really used? He's a nameless, faceless, source on Twitter... how do we check? Do we Tweet about it and see what people reply to us? When we get a reply that says "Yeah, I used these guides and without them the revolution wouldn't have happened!"... how do we know it's not from a 12 year old in Michigan?

Twitter aggregation is a service... but it takes a journalist with both subjet-specific knowledge and feet on the ground to verify and evaluate the aggregated information. By itself, feed aggregation is simply data, not knowledge.

Feb. 06 2013 09:13 AM

OMFG. Third-hand tweeting from unknown and/or anonymous sources - and sources who turn out to be people with no authority at all - is journalism? And this from a SENIOR STRATEGIST at NPR? Might as well be monkeys pounding on smart phones while a "journalist" tries to decide which is the best 140 characters in the stream. Not to analyze and verify, but to retweet as news.

Feb. 03 2013 10:31 PM
DIYinSTL from Flyover Country

This was an enjoyable segment which relates to an event in St. Louis. At a panel discussion put on by the Society of Professional Journalists last month (January 2013) a local editor in chief urged all the journalists present to forget about balanced reporting, join a certain politically active lobbying group, and write stories with the goal of swaying public opinion to help particular legislation get passed. He then, somewhat ironically, dismissed social media as "unreliable gossip” and not a news source. His name and agenda available upon request. For what it's worth, all the journalists present thought this was a fine idea.

Feb. 03 2013 07:12 PM
Nathan King from New York

Really nice interview with Andy but there is a big problem here......The Egyptian revolution was largely carried out by people who were not on twitter. A week in Tahrir square would have told you the Muslim brotherhood was leading and organizing everything -on twitter it seemed as though it was a revolution led by liberal young intellectuals. A perception problem replicated by social media throughout the Arab spring. Andy does valuable work but no substitute for being on the ground.


Feb. 03 2013 10:58 AM
John from Bklyn

Everything this guy is saying the reason why "tweets" should not be considered reliable reporting of events.
I guess this is the "journalism revolution".

Feb. 03 2013 10:51 AM

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