Sunday, November 14, 2010

Twitter is for [deniable] Proclamations

From the Economist (A Russo-Japanese tiff):
On November 1st President Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian leader to visit the [Russian-occupied, but contested, Kurile] islands, less than two weeks before he flies to Japan for an Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit. To rub in more salt, he posted Twitter snapshots of Kunashiri island and added: “How many beautiful places there are in Russia!” Japan temporarily recalled its ambassador to Moscow. Mr Medvedev so loves the place he says he’s coming back.
What struck me about that bit of news is that the Russian President is using Twitter to express policy. And thinking about it, I see that since Twitter is an inherently unidirectional medium it is perfectly suited to imperial proclamations. Hugo Chavez (@chavezcandanga) has 1,031,520 followers but follows only 19 people. Sarah Palin (@sarahpalinusa) has 298,289 followers and follows 104. If only Mao Zedong were alive today!

I don't mean to criticize leaders for using Twitter. As Michele Rhee (@m_rhee 5,315 and 491) eloquently explained on the Diane Rehm Show (@drshow 12,239 and 34), it's an ideal medium for getting information to those who are interested without having to read their emails (or tweets). Many people genuinely want to read what the Dali Lama has to say (@dalailama; 1,030,290 and 0), and he has other ways of hearing from those who are deserving of his attention. (I might also point out that one can always read someone's tweets without following them).

The other side of this, of course, is that most Tweets are trivial. All are short, which automatically makes them deniable as proclamations of state. Medvedev can express his appreciation for the beauty of the Kuriles, and later point out that 140 characters did not give him the latitude for the otherwise necessary diplomatic qualifications about whether he was making a territorial claim.

Tweeple mentioned in this post (with sample tweets):

@dalailama Dali Lama - 1,030,290 followers, follows 0
"Message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the release of Aung San Suu Kyi."
"I believe that whether a person follows any religion or not is unimportant, he or she must have a good heart, a warm heart."

@kremlinrussia_e President of Russia - 51,776 followers, follows 10
"Met with Japan's prime minister. I'm certain that economic cooperation is more useful than irresolvable disputes."

@chavezcandanga Hugo Chávez Frías - 1,031,520 followers, follows 19
"He hablado con la Presidenta Dilma. Me encargó saludar a todo el Pueblo Venezolano. "Seguiremos construyendo la Unidad BrasilVenezuela"dijo"

@sarahpalinusa Sarah Palin - 298,289 followers, follows 104
"An Open Letter to Republican Freshmen Members of Congress... read:"
"Family gearing up 4 Thanksgiving break book tour; anxious 4 kids 2 have "what I did on my vacation" experiences in great US towns along way"

@m_rhee Michelle Rhee 5,315 followers, follows 491
"There are definitely some ineffective administrators out there who make it hard for teachers to do their jobs well"

@drshow The Diane Rehm Show
"Mon.: What's in store for the Lame Duck Congress; the next in our "The Constitution Today" series (Federalism):"

@BARACKOBAMA Barack Obama 5,885,978 followers, follows 710,195
"I want our veterans to know: We remember. We remember your courage. We remember your sacrifice. And the legacy of your service lives on."

smount (me) 35 followers, follows 30
interested to learn that Thomas Jefferson wanted the prime meridian to be 16th St., thru Meridian park. 1793."

@ongenetics Steve Mount (on genetics) 54 followers, follows 32
#ASHG2010 Striking extent of RNA editing, including non-deamination events, even transversions. 20,000 sites, 600 nonsynonymous changes!" [This was in reference to a plenary talk by M. Li, from the Cheung lab at U. Penn:]