Twitter Diplomacy New Face of Foreign Relations

Manila Bulletin, May 27, 2011 | Go to article overview

Twitter Diplomacy New Face of Foreign Relations


STOCKHOLM (AP) - When Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt couldn't reach his counterpart in Bahrain by traditional means of communication, he turned to Twitter.

"Trying to get in touch with you on an issue," Bildt tweeted to Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa early Thursday.

A shout-out on Twitter - is this the future of diplomacy?

"It shows that in the modern world you can seek contact in modern ways," Bildt told The Associated Press.

Many politicians and diplomats worldwide have already embraced social media as a tool to communicate with the public - Bildt and others tweeted prolifically Thursday about the arrest of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic.

But they don't typically communicate among each other that way.

So was Bildt's mission to find Al Khalifa on Twitter successful?

"Yep," Bildt said. Al Khalifa saw his tweet - Bildt's 1,000th - and got in touch with the Swede, who noted that social media isn't the only way he contacts his peers: "I know which ones are on Twitter."

With nearly 32,000 followers, Al Khalifa is something of a Twitter celebrity in his Persian Gulf nation. Many of his tweets during Bahrain's pro-democracy uprisings reflected the Al Khalifa monarchy's viewpoint. But others have contained shout-outs to fellow diplomats, a mother's day greeting and even the occasional travel snapshot.

His activity has also generated spoof Twitter accounts, some of which poke fun at the minister's weight. One of those parody accounts replied to Bildt's tweet to Al Khalifa on Thursday: "(at)carlbildt He's eating right now, try again later (hashmark)bahrain."

Despite the risk of such spoofs, diplomats are likely to use social media ever more frequently, even in contacting each other, if only to show that they move with the times, analysts say.

John Einar Sandvand, who blogs about media trends in Norway, suspects Bildt's Tweet was not just aimed at Al Khalifa, but at the Swedish minister's almost 30,000 other followers.

"I don't know Carl Bildt. But I'm quite sure he knows what he's doing," Sandvand said. "He wouldn't tweet private information. He does this in a way to build his brand as a politician."

Bildt, 61, may seem like an unlikely social media pioneer. He's quite formal when you meet him in person - neatly dressed in dark suits, always eloquent and with the air of a professor.

But he's eager to promote Sweden as leader in information technology and figures he must set an example. On his blog, he proudly noted that he made "IT history" when he as Swedish prime minister in 1994 sent an email to President Bill Clinton.

"It was the first email at this level and got quite a lot of attention at the time," Bildt recalled in 2007.

When it comes to social networking, Bildt has a strong challenger in Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb, who has a more casual tone on his Twitter and Facebook accounts and official home page. It shows the 43-year-old Stubb posing in jeans and sneakers and on a bicycle in full racing gear. …

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