Egypt media watch: Social media edition

Joe Pompeo
Media Reporter
The Cutline

Since Egypt's civilian-led uprising exploded early last week, people within the country have turned to social media as a vital source of information--while observers across the globe have likewise made extensive use of updates on Twitter, Facebook and other outlets to track Egypt's volatile political situation.  Here's a look at how the Egyptian crisis has lent currency and legitimacy to social media on the ground in Cairo--and beyond.

Mashable has an excellent roundup of how journalists have harnessed Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, live blogs and Tumblr as real-time reporting tools in the face of the Egyptian government's communications crack down. "In some respects, the attempt to block communication has done little to stifle reports coming out of the country," writes Vadim Lavrusik. "Though much of the citizenry isn't able to broadcast themselves, their stories are being told and amplified."

Many journalists have been using their news organizations' satellite services to file reports and get online. But some have taken to less sophisticated methods. When all else fails for CNN's Nic Robertson, for instance, he calls his wife back home and tells her what he wants her to tweet from his account. "Simple workaround and proof that you can't stop information," writes Steve Safran on Lost Remote.

John Scott-Railton, a University of California graduate student who has visited Egypt regularly since 2006, employed a similar tactic. He created the Twitter account Jan25Voices, named for the date of the first major street demonstrations, and started posting updates relayed to him over the phone by friends, and friends of friends, who are on the ground. "Some of the updates I was getting were from people's aunts standing at the window, holding their phone out so I could hear what was happening," Scott-Railton told Time magazine, which noted that during "the roughly 24 hours on Friday when cellular communications were turned off ... anyone following Jan25voices knew what was going on."

There is at least one brand-new tool for cheating the Internet blackout. Google and Twitter have teamed up to launch a new speech-to-text recognition technology that converts voicemails left to a specific phone number into tweets sent out with the "#egypt" hash tag. Scribd, the document-embedding service, has also emerged as a valuable resource.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have, as Poynter's Julie Moos notes, "legitimized Twitter & Facebook as tools of democracy in Egypt" by publicly calling for Hosni Mubarak's embattled regime to unblock these services and restore Internet access.

"This may be the first time an American president has referred to social networking as critical during a time of crisis," writes Moos.

The upsurge in social-media activity is but the latest significant turn in a run of media-related developments coming out of Egypt.