When Donald Trump was elected U.S. president on November 9, 2016, the world was stunned and world leaders were baffled by his unorthodox use of Twitter to bypass traditional media channels. Many chancelleries had hoped he would use the official @POTUS Twitter account rather than his personal campaign Twitter account (@realDonaldTrump) once he was inaugurated.
When he took office, the @realDonaldTrump account was followed by 97 world leaders on Twitter while 226 world leaders were following the @POTUS account. Today, heads of state and government realize that the @realDonaldTrump account is not going away and, as a result, the @realDonaldTrump handle is now followed by 185 of the 951 world leader accounts and it occupies the fifth position among the most followed accounts by world leaders behind the @WhiteHouse (290), @POTUS (250) the @StateDept (210) and @10DowningStreet (194).
The undiplomatic use of Twitter by the U.S. president presents unprecedented challenges to traditional diplomacy, and only a handful of world leaders have engaged directly with the @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. On May 18, 2018, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, expressed publicly what many diplomats only think privately: “with friends like that who needs enemies” he tweeted.
In general, the diplomatic community has decided not to react directly to tweets from @realDonaldTrump and avoid any public quarrel in order not to offend him on the platform. No one wants to pick a fight with the most powerful and most followed world leader on Twitter.
During the visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Washington in April 2018, the German government carefully avoided mentioning @realDonaldTrump in its tweets, referring to the U.S. president as “@POTUS Trump” instead.
When Donald Trump publicly berated his closest ally, Prime Minister Theresa May on Twitter, the UK government kept an embarrassed silence on Twitter, not wanting to endanger their special relationship.
Likewise, the Canadian government decided not to reply directly to Donald Trump’s tweet claiming that “Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult. We will not stand for this. Watch!” However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau picked up the phone the following day to discuss bilateral trade issues with President Trump and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland went on Bloomberg TV to address the looming trade war.
Only a handful of world leaders have directly addressed @realDonaldTrump on Twitter. In May 2017, the leaders of Fiji and the Marshall Islands, both island states directly affected by climate change, appealed directly to @realDonaldTrump “not to abandon the Paris Agreement” as Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama tweeted.
When President Trump decided to leave the Paris Climate Agreement on June 1, 2017, the Prime Ministers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden coordinated their Twitter reply urging @realDonaldTrump “to show global leadership” and not to leave the accord.
In a last-ditch effort to sway the U.S. President, the French Foreign Ministry specifically tagged the personal Twitter account of the president’s daughter @IvankaTrump in its tweet, in the hope that the First Daughter and Special Adviser to the President would be able to convince her father not to “refuse the worldwide solution.”
When that failed, the French Foreign Ministry annotated the video posted by @WhiteHouse explaining that “Leaving the Paris Accord is a bad deal for America and the World.” It was the first time a foreign ministry publicly rebuked an ally on Twitter, and the tweet has become its most retweeted tweet with more than 19,000 retweets.
African and Latin American leaders were incensed in January 2018 when it was reported that the U.S. President had called African countries and El Salvador “shithole” countries. The leaders of Botswana, El Salvador, Ghana and Senegal all tweeted their disapproval in no unclear terms. “We will not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful,” tweeted Nana Akufo-Addo, the President of Ghana.
In early May 2018, the French Foreign Ministry tweeted a strongly worded statement after Donald Trump declared in a speech to the National Rifle Association that the terror attacks in Paris in November 2015, which had left 130 people dead, could have been avoided if the people had had guns. While President @EmmanuelMacron stayed mum, former French president Francois Hollande tweeted a video statement calling the remarks “shameful and obscene.”
It is easy for opposition politicians to openly criticize the U.S. President. Sebastian Pinera, Chile’s new president and then opposition leader tweeted on January 31, 2017 that with Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s vice president: “the US is ruled by Donald and Mickey. Would Walt Disney have dreamt of it?”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the few leaders who wholeheartedly welcome Donald President Trump’s decisions to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem or to rescind the Iran nuclear deal. His most retweeted tweet ever welcomes President Trump to build the border wall: “President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea,” he tweeted with Trumpian exaggerations.
However, the unease about Donald Trump’s liberal use of his personal Twitter account is also evident within his own administration. The @StateDept is notably the only U.S. government department that does not follow the personal account of @realDonaldTrump since it is not an official administration account. The newly created account for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, @SecPompeo, started following the @realDonaldTrump’s personal account three weeks after its inception.
In line with U.S. State Department guidelines about the private and official use of social media accounts, the @StateDept account has never mentioned the @realDonaldTrump account, consistently referring to the U.S. president as “@POTUS Trump.” However, that rule does not prevent the State Department from following the Iranian Foreign Minister @JZarif and Iran’s President @HassanRouhani who haven’t reciprocated yet.
The @WhiteHouse, on the other hand, has mentioned @realDonaldTrump 412 times and @POTUS 290 times. Under the Obama administration, the White House did not follow nor mention the campaign account of @BarackObama nor @MichelleObama.
French President Emmanuel Macron has made a dazzling appearance on the Twittersphere in 2017. Since his election on May 14, 2017, the @EmmanuelMacron account has tripled in size, adding more than 2 million new followers and becoming the EU’s third most followed leader.
Macron’s subtweet of the U.S. president, with the call to Make Our Planet Great Again, the day after the U.S. administration pulled out of the Paris climate accord, has become his all-time most retweeted tweet with more than half a million retweets and likes.
The Twitter communication of the French presidency has clearly pivoted to promote the personal Twitter account of @EmmanuelMacron. Under his predecessor, François Hollande, the @Elysee account averaged more than 16 tweets per day, but since the election of Emmanuel Macron @Elysee has become a secondary account, posting on average fewer than two tweets per day.
In all his public appearances, the French president is followed by his social media team which captures and records his every move, livestreaming his speeches on Periscope, Facebook Live and Instagram Stories. The best quotes and snippets of his meetings are shared on Twitter, including a 17-second clip taken of his phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his attempt learn how to say “Make our planet great again” in Chinese.
The German Foreign Ministry scored a couple of viral hits with humorous tweets. In September 2017, it greeted Twitter’s character extension to 280 characters with a tweet including #Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungs-aufgabenübertragungsgesetz, a 61-letter word literally meaning cattle marking and beef labelling supervision duties delegation law. When Germany beat nine-time Olympic champions Canada in the ice hockey semi-finals at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, the Foreign Ministry issued this humorous travel advisory: “Germans in Canada should exercise a high degree of empathy. Be nice, don’t gloat, give hugs, buy rounds of hot chocolate. Just imagine how you would feel if Canada beat us in soccer,” which has become its most retweeted tweet.
The Belgian Foreign Ministry celebrated International Waffle Day on March 25, 2018, posting mouth-watering pictures of the Belgian national delicacy and explaining the difference between the Liège and Brussels versions, clearly showing that culinary diplomacy is part of nation branding and digital diplomacy.
The Italian Foreign Ministry celebrated Twitter’s character extension with a tweet including 30 flag emojis forming the shape of the country which was initially crafted by the community manager of the Italian Embassy in Washington.
The use of emojis and especially flag emojis has become widespread in governmental tweets to draw the reader’s attention to links or videos.
The UK Foreign Office has found an elegant solution to make 280-character tweets more readable and visually appealing. Its long-form tweets include: a title or a key quote with the main news, a lead sentence, a link preceded by an emoji and a picture, all visually separated by carriage returns.
Article Source: Twiplomacy Study 2018
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