In 'Tweets from Tahrir,' Twitter posts tell the story of Egypt's revolution

'Tweets from Tahrir,' a book of Egyptian Twitter posts, records history in a novel way.

"Tweets from Tahrir" collects first-hand accounts of Egypt's revolution.

Remember when newspapers were the first draft of history? Now that title goes to something new: the status update.

That’s the message we get from “Tweets from Tahrir,” a book collecting comments and photographs posted to Twitter during last month’s revolution in Egypt. Mediabistro reported that the April publication from OR Books will contain “a selection of key tweets in a compelling, fast-paced narrative, allowing the story of the uprising to be told directly by the people in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.” The New York Times says the book appears to be the first of its kind.

The gimmick could work. Reading Twitter updates in real time when dramatic news breaks does give a sense of being in the midst of a crowd. There’s no reason collecting curated tweets would be that different from editing on-the-spot interviews into a narrative.

People being interviewed, though, understand that their words will be used to tell a story. Is it fair to collect, edit, and sell a tweet, where the authors don’t have the same assumptions? The New Yorker took on those questions, learning from the publishing company that the book’s editors have received permission from everyone whose tweets will be included in the collection. (The tweeters are not, however, being paid.)

Most tweets could not be copyrighted anyway, the New Yorker noted. “Still, these questions will become increasingly important as social media content provided from people around the world becomes a more central component of news coverage…,” the article said. “Many users know that their tweets might end up on CNN, they might even hope for such a thing, but I suspect that some of us forget just how far afield our bursts of a hundred and forty characters or fewer might travel.”

Are status updates from a public account public property when it comes to publication? Would you mind if your tweets appeared on the printed page?

-- Seattle writer Rebekah Denn blogs at

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