Twitter to the Rescue

A rapidly executed reversal of one man's wrongful imprisonment demonstrates the the power of a wide net

Saves the Day

Twitter

Twitter has had its share of bad press lately, namely that it was all but unusable for weeks last year due to an overwhelming server load. This week, however, things are looking up for the messaging service. Not only have their tubes been clog-free, but something happened to one of its members that illuminated just what it is Twitter may be good for (something more than a few people have been trying to figure out): letting people know when you're headed to jail.

James Karl Buck, a UC Berkeley graduate student, was documenting a demonstration in Egypt when he was swept up in a wave of arrests. Before he was hauled away, he managed to send a Tweet that he had been arrested. Within minutes, friends and colleagues were sending back advice for navigating the Egyptian bureaucracy and contacting others who could help him. By morning, he had a lawyer and was freed.

For a service usually awash in messages about what people are having for lunch, this is an example of the power of what can come when its wide net is used to convey real urgency. The key was that Buck was able to solicit help from many people with one message, as opposed to the traditional "one phone call" from prison, which depends heavily on a single contact.