How Journalists Verified Info Around Eltahawy's Arrest


  1. Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy tweeted just before 8:45 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Nov. 23 that she had been beaten and arrested in Cairo, and was being held in the Ministry of Interior. After her release, she said a political activist at MOI lent her a cell phone to post the hurried tweet.
  2. Guardian reporter Shiv Malik compiled a great Storify on the before and after of the sexual assault during Eltahawy's 12-hour detention that she later tweeted about, so I took a look at how journalists and others attempted to figure out what actually happened — as it was happening.
  3. I was on Twitter when Eltahawy sent out the alert. NPR's Andy Carvin and I responded soon afterward.
  4. It took mere seconds for word to spread throughout Twitter that Eltahawy was detained. Questions regarding her location, what she was doing in Egypt and who she was with were immediately being discussed.

    Carvin's first idea was to see whether she had dual citizenship, since it's less likely foreigners will receive the same treatment that full Egyptian citizens would encounter.
  5. Soon after finding out she was indeed an American citizen, Carvin and New York Times columnist Nick Kristof tweeted that they got in touch with their State Department contacts to see what they knew and how they could help. Nora, Mona's sister, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of Policy Planning for the State Department, tweeted that she, too, helped inform the proper officials.
  6. The next idea was to establish a hashtag that information could cycle through. The process played out on Twitter through Carvin and Tufekci, both of whom have loyal followers in the Middle East.
  7. Within about 14 minutes, #FreeMona had become one of Twitter's top 10 trends worldwide. I noticed and immediately threw out a tweet signaling this was the case — in part to spread the hashtag even further but also to alert others to Eltahawy's situation.
  8. Carvin and Zeynep Tufekci, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill's School of Information and Library Science, then looked into her location. Carvin noted that Eltahawy's last tweet wasn't geo-tagged, but Tufekci noticed that a recent tweet by Maged Butter, who Eltahawy was believed to have been with around the time of her arrest, had a location attached to his post.