@BarackObama and @Pontifex have company. According to a new report by the Digital Policy Council, 75 percent of world leaders tweeted in 2012 -- up 78 percent from 2011 and 270 percent from 2010, the year the survey started. Although the numbers are a bit inflated – the report counts nameless official accounts, such as Morocco's "eGovernment Portal" and an Indonesian account that posts occasional press releases, among its "heads of states" – they reflect a growing trend. Above, we've mapped out the heads of state who use Twitter, also indicating their follow counts.
Here, from the Digital Policy Council, are the report's numbers for tweeting heads of state:
The numbers sound like a big win both for Twitter and for open government, which have gone hand-in-hand since even before the Arab Spring uprisings popularized social media as a form of civic participation in 2010. According to advocates -- the DPC among them -- Twitter forces politicians to act more accountably and encourages community-building and civic engagement.
Unsurprisingly, leaders tweet more in countries with traditions of transparency. Sixty-three percent come from “politically stable” countries, and 87 percent of leaders in democratic countries tweet, according to the report.
That includes the usual contenders in places like North America, South America, and Western Europe, but there are surprises, as well. Presidents Moncef Marzouki and Paul Kagame run popular accounts in Tunisia and Rwanda, respectively. Queen Rania of Jordan, with her nearly 2.5 million followers, remains the world’s fourth most-followed political figure. Obama is ranked first with a whopping 24.6 million followers. Venezuelan President Huge Chavez and Turkish President Abdullah Gul rank second and third, with 3.8 and 2.6 million followers, respectively.
Though some will see this as a triumph for digital transparency, there are also less altruistic forces at work. Twitter dedicates a team of at least 20 people to recruiting “high-touch clients,” like celebrities and politicians -- who in turn attract other users and make the platform look good. When the pope sent his first tweet last month, a Twitter employee stood by his side to coach him along.
As many experts have also pointed out, few world leaders actually tweet for themselves or read the responses their followers send them. Just look at @BarackObama, the world’s most popular political account. The President hasn’t written his own tweet since Dec. 21, when he sent a brief message about Sandy Hook signed “-bo.”
Regardless, many of the world leaders who joined Twitter in 2012 hail from countries that critics say could use a little more transparency and civic discourse -- places like India (@PMOIndia), Iraq (@NKMaliky) and Somalia (@TheVillaSomalia). The Somalian account has only been online for a month and a half, but it’s been busy posting photos from inside government offices and retweeting articles about the country.
“More info is needed,” one user tweeted in response to a vaguely captioned photo.
“We will provide more information,” the Somalian account tweeted back, “this is a new start for our office.”