Written by Joe Toal • Published 14th August 2013
We’ve come a long way since the first broadcast from the White House in 1947. Back then, Harry Truman was guiding his nation through post-war uncertainty and readying the state for a forty year fight with the ‘communist bugaboo’.
Fast forward half a century and Barack Obama is living in a distinctly different world. Those pesky commies may have been dispatched long before his climb to power, and the President now lives in an age where communication with ‘the people’ is only a tweet away.
The US president has 35 million Twitter followers, the fourth most popular account on the social network (behind Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Katy Perry) and regularly he updates the nation with nice sound-bites, personal photos and regular calls to action:
Retweet if you agree it’s time to raise the minimum wage.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 9, 2013
President Obama is not the only world leader on Twitter. A study by Twiplomacy found that three-quarters of all world leaders possess a Twitter account. That’s 153 countries in total and a combined following of 105 million!
Next in the Twitter league table comes Pope Francis. The head of the Catholic Church is a clear second with 7m followers, whilst Turkeys Recip Erdogan is a distant third with 3.5m. Big Dave Cameron, the UK’s Prime Minister is the 9th most popular head of state on the social network, with 2.3 million followers.
The list stretches all the way down to infant states to South Sudan, who have gathered a following of just over six thousand since gaining independence in 2011. For small nations such as South Sudan, Twitter offers a perfect means of communication. Unlike United Nations conferences and the like, Twitter offers a level playing field whereby South Sudan’s voice weighs just as much as Barack Obama’s.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: a diplomatic war could break out very easily if just one head of state sends an inappropriate, nuclear bomb of a tweet to a fellow leader.
But don’t worry, there’s no need to panic just yet. There are so far very little signs that Digital Diplomacy (Digiplomacy? You heard it here first) is taking off. Although 68% of Twitter’s world leaders connect with each other, very little interaction actually goes on.
So for the time being at least, you won’t see North Korea formally declaring war on the US via Twitter, Europe’s leaders publically discussing how to solve the Eurozone crisis, or Barack Obama creating a #GiveBackSnowden trend.
Nonetheless, it does show the power that social media possesses in the world (see 2011 Arab Spring). Twitter and Facebook are by some distance the easiest way for world leaders to talk to their people. It may all be a popularity contest at the moment, but we may not be too far away from a world in which Twitter overtakes television as the preferred medium for a President’s or Prime Minister’s acceptance speech or as the first stop for dealing with a scandal.