UPDATED: Live coverage of Madagascar political crisis tweeted unto world

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Madagascar – A 31-year old research assistant from West Lafayette, Indiana, has become the subject of world-wide attention due a political conflict in Madagascar — one that’s claimed 120 lives so far. Using Twitter, Lova Rokotomalala has managed to keep the English-speaking worlds informed of goings on due to his live tweets, changing the way this political crisis is understood by the English-speaking world.

Website like Twitter have such amazing potential for regular citizens (not journalists) with normal Internet access to be our eyes and ears in the midst of world events. The reality is that tweeting about community goings on provides a global historical record for anyone who listens at the time, or comes by later to examine what happened and when. When several regular citizens are tweeting about their point of view, what they see, what’s happening around them in the event of a crisis, a real picture begins to form.

Such information could even be crucial to investigators looking to get at the truth of the matter, one which is often separate from “political truths”.

In this particular case, Rokotomalala is translating political events which have occurred in recent months into English from French and Malagasy, two local languages. He emigrated 10 years ago tot he country of 20 million. He says, “A lot of people don’t even know where Madagascar is”, though many know it is famous for exotic wildlife, like its lemurs.

The crisis Rokotomalala has been reporting on involves Antananarivo, the nation’s capital. Clashes between 34-year old Andry Rajoelina (a former disc jockey), and 59-year old Ravalomanana (head of security forces for the president) have resulted in corruption and growing signs of a dictatorship, along with economic concerns like high food prices, though the president calls it “a power grab”.

Government troops had opened fire on thousands of protestors in early February, killing 28 people. At the time, Rakotomalala was in Indiana. He began to become very concerned for his relatives who were in Madagascar. He noticed a flow of ground-level reports coming through on Twitter, and online blogs. He made contact with a number of local contributors and created what The Wall Street Journal calls “an informal news bureau of sorts.”

Many of the reports were coming out in French and Malagasy. Rakotomalala began following events one day in early February which took him completely by surprise. At 12:40pm the mayor was quoted by a 28-year old bank cashier, Lalatiana Rahariniaina, who said “We people will take the power” (translated into English). At 2:33pm, Rahariniaina wrote in reference to soldiers guarding the palace, “Militaries are prepared to fire if needed.” When shots rang out, at 2:46pm Rahariniaina wrote “Militaries shot from …” and then the message ended.

Rakotomalala was monitoring several blogs and tweets coming in from the events, translating them to English. His efforts are paying off as world-wide attention is now being given to the situation in Madagascar. Rakotomalala says, “Before, when you Googled my country, you just got the movie. We are correcting that.”

See The Wall Street Journal.

Opinion

Recently, courtrooms have started allowing real-time tweeting. And as famous people broadcast their lives, real-time news is also being generated for sporting events, social events and now political events.

People who have Twitter accounts should definitely learn how to use them on their mobile devices. During crucial local events, the ability to tweet real-time happenings could be an invaluable tool to investigators, family and friends, as well as an accurate historical account for future generations.

UPDATED:  March 16, 2009 – 1:00pm CDTTo see the effectiveness of Twitter’s tweeting on this even, here we read a static version of today’s Madagascar happenings on Voice of America. And now compare to the tweeting of just one person, Ariniaina on Twitter, which at the time of this writing read:

#madagascar The chief of CEMGAM has declared on MaTV that all the civilians in Iavoloha have to leave the place cuz they are going to attack
about 2 hours ago from web

#madagascar Pakysse is in Antaninarenina now and is seeing lots of militaries and 5 tanks
about 2 hours ago from web

@thierry_ratsiz La Banque Centrale plus exactement
about 2 hours ago from web in reply to thierry_ratsiz

#madagascar The central bank has been attacked by militaries of TGV (src Radio MADA)
about 2 hours ago from web

#madagascar There are bangs of grenades or I don’t know somewhere around Anosy or Antaninarenina (not sure) said a friend
about 2 hours ago from web

#madagascar Andry Rajoelina and TGV protesters disagree with the referendum
about 2 hours ago from web

A user named Dadandry has posted these tweets:

#Madagascar: Colonel André Ndriarijaona, chief of the mutineers, has ordered to all the civilians at Iavoloha presidential palace to leave
about 1 hour ago from web 

#madagascar: 07.00pm Madagascar time, the mutineer militaries have attacked the central bank in Antaninarenina (downtown of Antananarivo)
about 2 hours ago from web 

#madagascar: according to Radio Mada, the mutineer millitaries and the gendarmes will attack Iavoloha presidential palace tonight.
about 6 hours ago from web 

#madagascar:there are “pirate” tv & radio which are disturbing the broadcasting of tvm & rnm(national tv&radio)
7:12 AM Mar 15th from txt

It should be noted that Madagascar (UTC+3) is 7 hours ahead of the U.S. Eastern Daylight Time (UTC-4). Ariniaina’s posts would’ve ended around 7pm at night, and Dadandry’s posts would’ve ended around 8pm. See the Foko web-site for a link of several tweeters. Foko means, “It takes a village to raise an idea”.

Considering the powerful nature of these unfolding events, some posts occurred within minutes of each other, which type of news would you rather follow for unfolding world events?

In my opinion, I believe there is some future for a website startup to begin sifting through Twitter posts, providing correlating information that can be searched, queried and consumed via regular update RSS feeds with paragraph summations of significant unfolding events. Twitter is on its way to changing the world.

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