Opinion

Chrystia Freeland

Statecraft via Twitter

Chrystia Freeland
Apr 5, 2012 21:36 UTC

It turns out you can govern in 140 characters. Social media is often accused of coarsening our public discourse and of making us stupid. But some innovative public leaders are taking to their keyboards and finding that the payoff is a direct and personal connection with their communities.

To understand how statecraft by Twitter works, I spoke to three avid practitioners, who are spread around the globe and work at different levels of government: Carl Bildt, the foreign minister of Sweden; Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia; and Naheed Nenshi, the mayor of Calgary, Alberta.

Bildt is a veteran blogger, but he was dubious about Web 2.0, as the social-media revolution is sometimes called. “I was rather skeptical on Twitter,” he told me. “I thought, ‘What can you say in 140 characters?’”

But Bildt, who has more than 116,000 followers , soon found Twitter to be “very useful” and also “fun.”

“As a matter of fact, you can say something in 140 characters,” he said. “The restriction isn’t as absolute as I had thought.”

In 2011, the revolution was tweeted

Chrystia Freeland
Dec 29, 2011 21:26 UTC

2011 was a good year for protest and a bad year for government. 2012 will be a good year for both if our political leaders can figure out the connection.

Across the globe, this was a year when people took to the streets, often overthrowing their leaders in the process. That was true in the Arab world, in Russia, in India, in Western Europe, in the United States and even in China.

And everywhere, this year of mass defiance wrong-footed those who were supposed to be in the know. The experts had thought the Arabs were getting richer and were too scared of their autocrats, that the Russians were apathetic and quite liked their neo-czar, that the Indian middle class was politically disengaged, that West Europeans were too old for outrage, that Americans didn’t care about the class divide and that the Chinese comrades were too effective at suppressing dissent.

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