Twitter diplomacy

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UK Foreign Secretary William Hague answers questions on Afghanistan and Pakistan for his seventh Twitter Q&A, 29 June 2011

Twitter diplomacy, also "Twiplomacy" or "hashtag diplomacy", is the use of social media website, Twitter, by heads of state, leaders of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), and their diplomats to conduct diplomatic outreach and public diplomacy.[1]

Twitter has taken on diverse and occasional roles in diplomatic communications, from cordial announcements of bi-lateral cooperation to terse exchanges and diplomatic jabs, as well as more casual posts.[2]


The term twitplomacy was proposed in 2011, in one of the first works focused on the study of diplomacy within the social networks.[3][better source needed] This report purports to show how presidents use Twitter to keep diplomatic relationships with other presidents and political actors. However, the use of Twitter by world leaders and diplomats was on the rise as of April 2014[citation needed], but Twitter diplomacy was only one aspect of the growing trend[citation needed] toward digital diplomacy, also known as eDiplomacy or Facebook diplomacy, by many world governments.[original research?]

Twitter and diplomacy[edit]

Twitter activity of Michael McFaul. Re-tweets are not included.

As of April 2014, an estimated 241 million active users had joined Twitter.[4] Twitter also offers policymakers the possibility to interact with a worldwide audience.

World leaders and their diplomats have taken note of Twitter's rapid expansion and have begun using it to engage with foreign publics and their own citizens.[5] US Ambassador to Russia, Michael A. McFaul was one of the first diplomats to use Twitter as a tool for diplomacy. He used Twitter after becoming ambassador in 2011, posting in English and Russian.[2] A 2013 study by website Twiplomacy found that 153 of the 193 countries represented at the United Nations had established government Twitter accounts.[6] The same study also found that those accounts amounted to 505 Twitter handles used by world leaders and their foreign ministers, with their tweets able to reach a combined audience of over 106 million followers.[6]

Commenting in a 2013 publication on the subject for the Geneva-based, non-profit Diplo, former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi said of social media, "Social media exposes foreign policymakers to global audiences while at the same time allowing governments to reach them instantly [...] Twitter has two big positive effects on foreign policy: it fosters a beneficial exchange of ideas between policymakers and civil society and enhances diplomats' ability to gather information and to anticipate, analyze, manage, and react to events."[7]


Confrontations via Twitter diplomacy are visible to a worldwide audience.[citation needed]

In April 2014, tensions between the US State Department and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the 2014 Crimean crisis devolved into tweets, with both ministries using the hashtag #UnitedforUkraine to convey opposite points of view.[8][9]

Tweeting to a global audience also poses challenges to leaders and diplomats. In early 2014, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani decided to delete a controversial tweet that received much media attention, though it was likely intended for his domestic audience.[10]

Use by governments and intergovernmental organizations[edit]

Twiplomacy's 2013 study provided new insight into the use of Twitter by governments. Twitter registration by region includes:[6]

  • Africa: 71% of governments
  • Asia: 75% of governments
  • Europe: 100% of governments[11]
  • North America: 18 governments
  • Oceania: 38% of governments
  • South America: 92% of governments

By heads of state and government[edit]

Former US President Barack Obama is credited as being the first head of state to establish a Twitter account, originally affiliated with his 2008 presidential campaign, on March 5, 2007, as user number 813,286.[6] He was also the most followed head of state on Twitter.[12]

Other heads of state and government to pioneer the conduct of Twitter diplomacy include Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo,[13] and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, all of whom joined Twitter in 2007.

US president Donald Trump (whose frequent and often controversial use of Twitter during the 2016 US presidential election campaign and since has become well known around the world) actively engaged in Twitter diplomacy during his years in office.[14][15][16][17]

By leaders of intergovernmental organizations[edit]

As of April 2014, the United Nations (UN) is the most followed intergovernmental organization,[18] with its website showing over 2.56 million viewers in April 2014.[19] Many of the UN's subordinate funds and agencies also attract large numbers of followers. The United Nations Children's Fund achieved greater popularity than its parent organization, the UN, and is followed by over 2.69 million as of April 2014.[20]

By diplomats and diplomatic missions[edit]

Former Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, echoed the sentiment of many diplomats when responding to a May 2012 question about why he joined Twitter: "Today there are few alternatives as far-reaching and effective, with very wide audiences and young audiences, as Twitter. Twitter is another tool that enables me to communicate with other diplomats and journalists, while also allowing me to add a personal touch."[21]

Foreign ministries have caught on, and some are making efforts to advertise their presence on Twitter. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for example, published a consolidated list of all UK missions on social media.[citation needed]

The United States State Department, one of the leaders in digital diplomacy, maintains an active presence on Twitter. Although former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton encouraged American diplomats to tweet, she did not establish her personal handle until 2013, after she had already left office.[22] Current Secretary John Kerry re-activated his personal Twitter handle after one year on the job.[23] Former US ambassador to the Russian Federation, Michael McFaul, pioneered the use of Twitter for American ambassadors with a steady stream of English/Russian tweets during his 2011–2014 tenure.[24][25] An academic by trade and not a career diplomat, Ambassador McFaul's tweets were generally blunt and un-polished—uncommon characteristics in the diplomatic world—earning both frequent criticism from the Russian government and praise from his supporters.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keleman, Michele (21 February 2014). "Twitter Diplomacy: State Department 2.0". National Public Radio. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  2. ^ a b Landler, Mark (4 February 2014). "In the Scripted World of Diplomacy, a Burst of Tweets". International New York Times. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  3. ^ Treeintelligence (6 April 2011). "Twitplomacy". Retrieved 17 July 2014.
  4. ^ Twitter. "About Twitter, Inc". Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  5. ^ "How Twitter enhances conventional practices of diplomacy | OUPblog". OUPblog. 2017-10-05. Retrieved 2018-01-30.
  6. ^ a b c d "Twiplomacy Study 2013 – International Organisations". 23 June 2013. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  7. ^ DiploFoundation. "Twitter for Diplomats". Retrieved 26 April 2014.
  8. ^ Ishaan, Tharoor. "Russia hijacks U.S. State Department's Ukraine hashtag". Washington Post. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  9. ^ (26 April 2014). "Obama's hashtag diplomacy with Russia sparks new criticism about weak foreign policy". Fox News. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  10. ^ Loguirato, Brett. "Iran's President Deleted A Controversial Tweet". Business Insider. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  11. ^ Tutt, A. (2013), E-Diplomacy Capacities within the EU-27: Small States and Social Media. Retrieved 2015-09-17.
  12. ^ Miles, Tom (26 July 2012). "@tweeter-in-chief? Obama's outsourced tweets top twitocracy". Reuters. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  13. ^ Tutt, A. (2013), E-Diplomacy Capacities within the EU-27: Small States and Social Media. Retrieved 2015-09-17.
  14. ^ McCaskill, Nolan (2 May 2017). "Clinton slams Trump's Twitter diplomacy: 'That doesn't work'". Politico. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  15. ^ Rebecca Kheel; Ellen Mitchell (6 June 2017). "Trump's diplomacy-by-Twitter sets off firestorm". The Hill. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  16. ^ Apps, Peter. "Commentary: Trump's brave new world of Twitter diplomacy". Reuters (6 December 2016). Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  17. ^ Romero, Luis Gomez (27 January 2017). "Twitter diplomacy: how Trump is using social media to spur a crisis with Mexico". The Conversation. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  18. ^ Twiplomacy. "Twiplomacy 2013 - How International Organizations Tweet" (PDF). Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  19. ^ "United Nations (UN) on Twitter".
  20. ^ "UNICEF (UNICEF) on Twitter".
  21. ^ Tracy, Marc (30 May 2012). "Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren Talks About Why He Joined Twitter". The Tablet. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  22. ^ Thomas, Ken (2013). "Hillary Clinton starts Tweeting". AP. Archived from the original on 29 April 2014. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  23. ^ Gearan, Anne (4 February 2014). "John Kerry unleashed on Twitter once again". Washington Post. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  24. ^ Elder, Miriam (29 May 2012). "Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Moscow, victim of Kremlin 'Twitter war'". Guardian. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  25. ^ a b Lally, Kathy (11 January 2014). "U.S. ambassador in Moscow uses social media to bypass official line". Washington Post. Retrieved 28 April 2014.

Further reading[edit]