The Missing Americans Project

Looking for People and Answers

How Twitter May Have Kept a Student Journalist From Disappearing

This story goes back to 2008 (I would love to know if there are similar, more recent examples) and is a great demonstration of how timely, thoughtful use of our increasingly mobile social media can prevent a disappearance or, at the very least, leave a trail for investigators to follow. James Buck, a graduate student from the University of California-Berkeley, was in Mahalla, Egypt, covering an anti-government protest when he and his translator, Mohammed Maree, were arrested. On his way to the police station, Buck took out his cell phone and sent a message to his friends and contacts using Twitter. The message contained one word: "Arrested."

Watch the CNN interview with James Buck

Within seconds, colleagues in the U.S. and his blogger friends in Egypt -- the same ones who had taught him about Twitter only a week earlier -- were alerted that he was being held.

Since Buck's case, social media tools have only become more mobile and more integrated with each other, allowing travelers to ensure that their friends at home and around the world are aware of where they are, when they have deviated from their itineraries, if they are experiencing difficulties or finding themselves in uncomfortable situations. People do need to be aware, however, that mobile social media are only as good as the telecommunication service they are able to access...which, in many parts of the world, can be spotty to say the least.

If you've heard any stories since Buck's about social media getting travelers out of a jam, <a href=mailto:missingamerican@optonline.net>let me know</a>. The Missing Americans Project is tweeting as @MissingAmerican (note: no "s" at the end). I hope you'll follow us.

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