Missing out on the Twitter Revolution? Here's a cheat sheet to get you started.
- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
The best tweeters are like personal news curators, separating the wheat from the chaff, and fact from fiction. But how do you find the good ones? In part, it depends on what you’re looking for and when — Twitter is nothing if not dynamic. (How many people are still ardently following the guy from Abbottabad who live-tweeted the raid on Osama bin Laden?) Here’s my guide to the global feeds most worth your time, day in and day out.
Among Middle East watchers, two of the most popular English-language tweeters are Sultan Al Qassemi (@SultanAlQassemi), a 33-year-old Emirati columnist who often translates breaking news from Arab satellite channels, and Andy Carvin (@acarvin), a senior strategist at NPR who began obsessively sharing videos and stories about the Arab uprisings in December and has barely come up for air since. Qassemi and Carvin, among others like Global Voices editor Amira Al Hussaini (@JustAmira) and the Guardian‘s Brian Whitaker (@Brian_Whit), serve as collecting points for more country-specific conversations.
The Middle East
The most developed local Twitter scene is Egypt, where a snarky group of young activists share stories, upload video clips and images of demonstrations, and debate the merits of various protest strategies. To get inside the youth revolution, follow @Sandmonkey, the unemployed son of a former ruling-party parliamentarian, and @Zeinobia, an anonymous female blogger whose mangled English prose masks a keen political mind. Many Egyptian Twitterati are upper-crust graduates of the American University in Cairo, but their discourse is unswervingly radical; felool — slang for the "remnants" who still support Mubarak’s regime — are few and far between (they’re more likely to be on Facebook). Former nuclear chief Mohamed @ElBaradei‘s tweets made big news during the revolution, and now even establishment figures, like telecom tycoon @NaguibSawiris, are using the platform to promote their views.
In Bahrain, tweeting has become a vicious, take-no-prisoners form of cyberwarfare, with prominent Shiite human rights activists, royal family members (including one who describes herself as "Certified Princess, Bombshell, Fashionista, & Make Up Guru. Kim Kardashian’s Number One Fan"), and regime loyalists battling daily over that country’s deep sectarian divide. Some good, honest brokers are @emile_hokayem, an analyst at the Manama office of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Financial Times correspondent @simeonkerr, and Bahraini computer programmer @ehsankooheji.
Other Arab countries are a mixed bag. For Libya, your best bet is @feb17libya, as journalists tend to come and go while many pro-rebel feeds often pass along unsourced, unverified rumors. For Syria, human rights activist @wissamtarif is usually a reliable source of protest news. Tunisia’s @nawaat was the go-to place for revolutionary videos; now it’s a (mostly French) hub of democratic transition. Princeton University scholar @gregorydjohnsen is a must-read for Yemen; trilingual France-based expat Hisham Almiraat (@Hisham_G) is a good starting point for Morocco. Saudi Arabia has a huge and growing Twitter population, but the conversation is overwhelmingly in Arabic.
For China, start with William Andrew Albano, @NiuB — the handle is an unprintable Mandarin slang term that more or less means "cool" — a Taipei-based tech writer who has built a list of other feeds to follow. A gaggle of Western journalists — including Canadian correspondent @markmackinnon; the acerbic @gadyepstein, the Beijing reporter for the Economist; @melissakchan of Al Jazeera English; and Edward Wong of the New York Times (@comradewong) — mixes it up with activists and Chinese dissidents like Isaac Mao (@isaac) and Michael Anti (@mranti) to commiserate about the absurdity of reporting under China’s heavy-handed one-party system.
Interested in Africa? Probably the best "follow" is the U.S. Embassy in South Africa (@USEmbPretoria), whose wide-ranging feed is a model of good Twitter etiquette and "21st-century diplomacy" (those of almost every other American mission abroad, unfortunately, are unspeakably dull). The Christian Science Monitor‘s Scott Baldauf (@baldaufji), veteran Africa hand Howard French (@hofrench), and Africa Express music project co-founder @ianbirrell are also great reads.
For all-purpose global tweets, political news, and some gossip too, try former State Department diplomats Anne-Marie Slaughter (@SlaughterAM) and @PJCrowley, think-tanker Andrew Exum (@abumuqawama), and journalists such as ABC News correspondent @jaketapper, Politico‘s Ben Smith (@benpolitico), and Wired‘s national security blog, @dangerroom. And, of course, if you’re not following @FP_Magazine, you’re truly going into the world blind.