UCLA Grad Student John Scott-Railton Has Become the Twitter Voice of Egypt

Ever since the Egyptian government shut its country’s Internet down in an effort to hinder protests, the world has been clamoring for real time reactions from citizens inside Egypt. Since the Egyptian people can’t tweet at the moment, a UCLA grad student by the name of John Scott-Railton has started doing it for them. 27-year-old Scott-Railton has been traveling to Egypt since 2006, where he has amassed a network of friends–with landlines–who are now providing him quotes and boots on the ground information he can send out over his Twitter feed.

Time has more:

Scott-Railton’s Twitter account lists him as having just over 4,000 followers, but that considerably understates his influence, as his tweets — which he posts at a rate of around 50 a day — are visible to all those who search for information on the protests. Blake Hounshell, managing editor of Foreign Policy Magazine, subscribes to his posts, as do the editors of several other major news publications. And Scott-Railton says that the BBC, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, Al Jazeera and the Wall Street Journal have all reached out to him for analysis or help finding Egyptians to interview. “In years past, the idea was that you could only understand the situation if you were on the ground,” says Sree Sreenivasan, a professor of digital media at Columbia Journalism School in NYC, who has been tracking the developments in Egypt. “What we have learned though is that there is a real role for social media for people who are far away from the action to bring context, understanding and analysis.”

Scott-Railton, who speaks rudimentary Arabic and has mostly used English — and occasionally French — in his reporting, has no training as a journalist. And yet, “a lot of the questions of journalistic ethics are now on my mind,” he says. “How do you confirm information? How do you avoid echo chambers? How do you substantiate?” When new sources began emailing him after his initial postings, he insisted they provide contacts, preferably in the U.S., who could vouch for their identities. He says his goal is to provide the “human component” of the story, “to make it feel as exciting and as relevant as the pictures of tanks rolling around.”

Check out Scott-Railton’s feed at Jan25 Voices.