Free Dorothy: Using Social Media to Free a Journalist (UPDATED)

Parvaz has been freed.

Al Jazeera reporter Dorothy Parvaz disappeared in Syria several weeks ago. Syria, whose citizens have been caught up in the Arab Spring but whose leaders most decidedly have not, has seen the death of over a hundred in the past three months. One of the reporters covering the situation was Parvaz.

Her employers subsequently discovered that the Syrians had arrested her and sent her to Iran. Her friends have responded with an instant and comprehensive social media campaign to free her. This campaign illustrates the quick roll-out that social media affords at this point in its development.

Her loved ones and friends have a Free Dorothy Facebook page, a Twitter account and, most importantly, a hashtag: #freedorothy.

What these factors provide is a way to quickly escalate the spread of information about Parvaz. The expressions of concern for her, or indictment of her captors, are interlocked thanks to the dialogic nature of social media and the hashtag allows for a center to braid the disparate messages together.

There has been a lot written about “Facebook activism,” with some justifiably charging that it is not an effective way to make anything happen. But the one thing that does happen with a widespread social media campaign, and which I believe is already starting to happen in Dorothy Parvaz’s case, is that it will attract attention, both on the Web at large, and among journalists in particular.

Something heartening I discovered while directing the Committee to Protect Bloggers is that the social communications substrate is one of the fastest media for escalating news. With any luck this will force the pressure up, to places like the White House, who will in turn turn the screws on Syria and Iran. Because here is the Big Truth about tyrants: They absolutely hate attention. Attention has saved lives, stopped torture and restored individual liberty. So, pay attention.

Wicked Witch illustration via Wikipedia | other sources: Lost Remote

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