Twitter as news feed: more amazing connections with strangers

This week we have changed gears slightly in my class and have moved from “Secuestro Express” and the kidnappings in Venezuela to “María llena de gracia” and the story of women who act as “mulas” and transport drugs from Colombia to the United States.

With each class and each topic we address, the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are getting fuzzier. And the FARC… they seem to have tentacles everywhere. In Colombia, with the President of Venezuela…and now, the President of Ecuador?

As I am sitting here doing my work, someone in Colombia is watching the news in Bogotá. That someone is sending me (and others in his network) messages called tweets — little messages of no more than 140 characters– through a tool called Twitter.

My Colombian “correspondent” is watching the news, and reporting to me (and others) what he is hearing with regard to the FARC, his government, the recent capture and killing of one of the FARC leaders in Ecuador, and now the possible involvement of government of Ecuador with the FARC.

It is sort of like live blogging, but in micro form and coming at you at a very fast clip. Here is an example of the news torrent…

Twitter from Colombia

And yes, you can use twitter with your cell phone as well.

There are several news organizations that have twitter feeds in place (the New York Times, the BBC…) but the idea of citizen journalists has just taken another turn (for the better) with Twitter.

(LLU has its own a twitter ID: langlabunleashd and when we post to the blog the posts are announced via Twitter to anyone who is in our network…)

Oh, and my Colombian correpsondent just sent a link to this little gem via Twitter from YouTube as well… Chavez swearing to God and his sainted mother that he would not be involved with the FARC.

Here is the how El Tiempo de Bogota reported this same news, now 6 hours later than when it was unfolding via Twitter.

Hay muchas caras de la misma moneda, indeed.

Stranger danger? Pffft.

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!


  1. Nancy White · March 3, 2008 Reply

    Hey you know this is no stranger. This is my friend and colleague in Colombia, the one whose workshop we tried to get you to guest at, but timing and such was off!!

  2. Barbara · March 3, 2008 Reply

    Indeed, Nancy, I know exactly who it is and am grateful to you for introducing us! I am also grateful for being on the receiving end of his “tweets.”

    But for most educators not familiar with these tools, the question would be “how do I know he is a trusted resource?” The reality is that the community ends up figuring out who is trusted and who isn’t based upon these wonderful reciprocal apprenticeships we create and provide for each other.

    Personally, the idea of getting newsfeeds from someone who is sitting in front of his TV and essentially “scooping” El Tiempo via Twitter just blows my tiny mind.

  3. Nancy White · March 3, 2008 Reply

    Hm, what the heck IS a trusted resource? Do you grant trust fast, then withdraw, or the other way around? What made you trust qadmon’s tweets? The introduction or the quality of the tweets? Or his responsiveness back to you?


  4. Barbara · March 3, 2008 Reply

    Hmmm… Why was he a trusted resource, you ask? Well for me it was the fact that as I sat at my desk here in Ohio, unbidden, I was thrust into his reality and I was reading the news of Colombia via his tweets, verbatim as it were, and many hours before the conventional media picked up on it, processed it, packaged it.

    Do I trust it because it is a torrent of back channel information? No, but knowing what little I do about the mainstream media and its treatment of Latin America, especially Colombia, there was something urgent and compelling about his reports that made me sit up and take note.

    For me, a trusted resource is someone who goes over the top, breaks through, defies gravity and gets the info out, no matter what happens.

    Yet another member of the “cultcha of love” 🙂

  5. robertogreco · March 7, 2008 Reply

    Fascinating post (I found it via Howard Rheingold’s feed). This bit you wrote in the above comment is really hits home for me: “I was thrust into his reality.”

    I’m in Buenos Aires right now and on my way from one place to another via bus and subway (as opposed to my usual on foot, on bike or in car back in the US), I find myself more frequently playing ‘a game’ that I always play when being stuck somewhere with strangers and not having something else that I need to concentrate on. The game is about removing my own petty concerns from my thoughts and considering/guessing what is going through the mind of the strangers with whom I am sharing space. In other words, trying to penetrate their reality, but mostly having to construct a fictional one.

    While I myself don’t post anything to Twitter, I find it fascinating. And combined with Flickr,,, etc…I can now get a non-invented glimse of someone else’s reality.

    Is it important whether they are right or wrong? Should we count them as a trusted resource? I’m not sure, but it is their reality and that counts as something.

  6. Barbara · March 9, 2008 Reply

    Hi Roberto:

    thank you for commenting. Howard Rheingold you say? Hmmm that’s interesting.

    What was particularly meaningful for me about this twitter exchange wa the fact that my students and I were studying what was going on in Colombia at that very moment, and had to wait for the standard news media to post an article for us to find out what was going on. To watch it unfold before our eyes was really quite wonderful.

    And yes, we could certainly check the veracity (or the spin, as it were) by then reading the next day’s news. And then discussing –why– there would be a spin if we felt there was one.

    Watching my students do this in a language that is not their own is pretty wonderful. And these tools make such challenges all the more possible.


  7. Diego Leal · April 9, 2008 Reply

    Hi there, Barbara!

    It took me more than one month and installing thwirl to find out about this post of yours. No need to say that these kind of things are what make the network experience valuable to me.

    I think it makes sense to explain a little bit about the reasons I had to twit all that (which, by the way, is not my “normal” twitter behavior). A few days before that crisis, I was sitting at night with my laptop, and then I started to see a lot of twits by Andy Carvin, about one of the Obama speeches. I was just caught with it when Andy’s twits started to talk about education. Then I went to the TV, and watched the rest of the speech on CNN.

    What was really interesting about that, is the way Andy was quoting Obama’s words. I just felt really informed by his twits. And when the crisis between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela started, I was following the news coverage and realized that, very few people around the world could have the chance to hear the words of General Naranjo (that was the night I twitted the most). So I got my laptop and started to quote what Naranjo was saying, trying to explain a little bit what was happening.

    I guess I just felt, for a second there, that I had a responsibility to spread the news about what was happening. So I just did it.

    The discussion about the confidence of the source is also very important. How do you know that the things I said weren’t biased? I guess that’s why I started to quote those things that weren’t my words, but the translation of what was happening in real time. But in the end, I guess it has to do with the reputation systems that people like George Siemens or Stephen Downes have talked about. Of course, those systems won’t make any sense for people outside the network, so we’re back where we started…

    “scooping” El Tiempo was a great line. I never thought about it that way, but it’s real that we now have a power that we didn’t have before. And it’s changing our environment. I remember a couple of weeks ago, one post by Tim O’Reilly talking about this regarding his New York Times subscription… Sadly, most of us are not aware of that newfound power.

    So, those were my reasons. Now I wonder what are Andy Carvin’s reasons, for example. I find two really interesting questions here now:

    Why do we twit and what’s the point?


    How do we find what’s real and what’s not?

    Thank you very much for your post. It was a great excuse for reflection.



  8. Barbara · April 11, 2008 Reply


    It is an honor to have you here, en vivo, as it were.

    Thank you for commenting. Your tweets that day were incredibly important for m,y class as we had just become aware of what was going on to the south and we were fascinated to see the issues unfold via Twitter well before El Tiempo or the BBC had packaged it nice and neatly.

    In class we talk about how news and information comes to us through a lens…. and your tweets were great example of citizen journalism as we could compare them to El Tiempo’s less urgent, less sanitized(?) version of the events.

    Add to these events the fact that I have a Conservatory student from France in my class and who is following Sarkowzy’s speeches about Ingrid Betancourt (, and well, the class has become a convergence and a fluency of media and information that I dare say could not have happened about 5 years ago.

    Thank you for being a part of my course! I so appreciate it!

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