What is the fastest and easiest way to check the metaphorical pulse of the people in charge of your country? The answer, increasingly, is “social media.” With Facebook firmly entrenched as the social network accepted by all from children through corporations, governments, and social movements, however, it may surprise you to learn that Twitter appears to be emerging as the leading network for those who want to keep track of what heads of state are thinking (in 140-character bursts, of course).
A study from the Digital Policy Council reveals that 75 percent of heads of state around the world favor Twitter when it comes to sharing policy decisions, reaching out to constituents or simply letting people know what’s on their minds at any particular moment. Looking at 164 countries, the study discovered that 123 world leaders have their own Twitter accounts, or communicate via a Twitter account set up by their office or a particular government agency.
“The new figures represent an annual compound growth rate of 93 [percent] in the number of heads of state and national governments on Twitter since we started tracking this data in 2010,” the DPC states. It’s also a rise on last year’s results, when only 69 of the 164 countries being tracked had a Twitter presence.
“In 2012, Twitter continued to be used by political activists to inform, mobilize, create communities, and seek to hold governments accountable,” the DPC’s report explains. “The momentum of 2011’s pro-democracy uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa, known as the Arab Spring, carried through to 2012 as demonstrators passionately acknowledged the role of social media to solidify their efforts. Twitter provided a platform for people to express their solidarity with others in their region and beyond.”
Of the most followed heads of state, U.S. President Barack Obama comes out on top with 24 million followers on the service, up 15 million on his 2011 total. In his wake, the second most followed politician – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez – trails significantly behind in terms of popularity, with “just” 3.8 million people following his every word. The first non-elected official to appear in the top 10 list is Queen Rania, the Queen Consort of the King of Jordan, at fourth place; with more than two million followers, she has undoubtedly won the crowds with her self-description of “a mum and a wife with a really cool day job.”
The DPC suggests that there is a link between heads of state using Twitter and democracy. “Tellingly,” the report reads, “87 percent of democratic countries had a leader utilizing Twitter in 2012. The political leadership of most fragile nations, or those with a high degree of political instability, continued to view social media as a threat, though.” Instead of simply another output for propaganda, it seems as if world leaders’ Twitter accounts could be considered a signpost for freedom of speech.