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Libya In 140 Characters

By now, most of the mainstream media has streamed into Libya, only to experience significant obstacles to covering Gadhafi’s war on his domestic rebels, which includes kidnapping, seizures of equipment and mock executions. But before the mainstream media was in Libya, there was social media, namely Twitter, providing an up close and personal window into the conflict that has roiled this North African Nation since Feb. 17.

Twitter is barely 5 years old and its use has spread like wildfire, especially among users under 40. This fits in perfectly with the demographics in Libya and other Middle Eastern nations where half the population is under 20 and highly dependent on cell phones, according to Bloomberg.com.

Based in the Bay Area, Twitter is a website that allows users to post messages of 140 characters or less, using their computers, cell phones or short message service (SMS). Messages, pictures and video are uploaded instantly, allowing immediate communication with potentially thousands of people worldwide.

Little wonder then that the organizers of current protest movements in the Middle East and North Africa turned to Twitter, creating what some have dubbed, the Twitter Revolution.

Twitter helped set Libya ablaze on Feb. 17 with tweets echoing calls on Facebook and other sites for a day of rage to protest and bring an end to more than four decades of social and political repression, as well as concerns about dire unemployment and social conditions.

Shortly after that, as waves of protests rolled across the country, Gadhafi pulled the plug on the Internet and refused foreign journalists visas to cover the unrest.

With little or no traditional news coverage, Twitter users sprang into action. Tweets came in hard and fast. Tweeters such as ShababiLibya (Libyan Youth Movement), a group of young Libyans both in and outside the country, started sharing information about arrests and live-ammunition fire in the streets of Libyan cities to the east. Anguished tweets came in from tweeters in Libya, who cannot be named for their safety, talking about the fight to gain control over Benghazi, conditions in the hospitals, house-to-house searches by Gadhafi’s troops.

Tweeters like Dima Khatib and Sultan Al Qassemi, Arab freelance journalists and commentators, passed on information obtained from friends on the ground in Libya. Significant developments such as Gadhafi’s use of foreign, mostly African, mercenaries showed up on Twitter early on. Interviews with doctors in the beleaguered eastern cities’s ERs spoke of government soldiers coming into the hospitals while tweeters outside of Libya passed on pictures and videos of tanks and shootings sent to them by those inside. Tweeters in Europe passed on go around code to circumvent Gadhafi’s control of the Internet

At first treated as possible rumors, reports of mercenaries, arrests and the shooting of patients in the hospitals have since been confirmed by Western media, such as NPR and the New York Times, and by Arab media, such as Al Jazeera.

Now, Twitter is lighting up again with news of the no-fly zone and Western intervention.

On February 27, ShababLibya tweeted, “For the first time in my life, I can hold a flag in the street with pride, I never held the green flag.”

Soon, ShababLibya will know whether they and others will continue to wave the flag or mourn the revolution.

To follow these and others tweeters tweeting on events in Libya, set up a twitter account and use #Libya and #Feb17.

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