@alaa charged with murder? How confusion from a mistaken news story played out on Twitter

On November 29, 2011, news sources posted stories claiming that arrested blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah had been charged with murder, on top of other charges previously announced that have been dismissed by human rights activists. After I tweeted the news reports, an intense discussion broke out across Twitter. It now appears the news reports were wrong. I've put together this story to capture how a claim can spread from mainstream news sources to Twitter, only to be debunked by Twitter users.

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  1. The first word I heard suggesting Alaa was facing new, more serious charges came from reporters at Al Jazeera English, citing Egypt's Shorouk news as the source.
  2. A similar tweet came from a radio producer at Canada's CBC:
  3. Around the same time, this photo of Alaa in custody began circulating on Twitter. At the time we assumed it was connected with the stories about Alaa's new charges.
  4. At this point I joined the conversation. I ended up doing two things that I possibly shouldn't have done: I took the initial reports as confirmed, and then got angry about it.
  5. At this point, the first reporter from AJE to report on the story followed up with some more details.
  6. The AJE coverage of Alaa relied on Shorouk News, an Arabic-language paper with connections to the Egyptian government. As far as I could tell, it made no sense for them to deliberately post mistaken information that would only re-energize anti-government protesters, so I began to ask for a translation of the story.
  7. Several people suggested the use of Google Translate, but I simply didn't trust machine translation for something as important as this. Legal nuance is just too tricky for a machine to recognize.
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