Over the past four months the world as we know it has changed beyond recognition. Overnight the coronavirus pandemic has completely transformed our lives – from the way we educate our children to the way we work and conduct business.
COVID-19 has thoroughly upended diplomacy, a profession which involves a fair amount of travel, physical meetings and in-person interactions. The traditional work of world leaders and diplomats has come to a sudden stop as travel restrictions, border closures and shelter-in-place orders have scuppered in-person diplomatic activity.
As the novel coronavirus spread globally, leaders hunkered down at home, such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who went into self-isolation after his wife tested positive for COVID-19. “I’ll continue to work from home and conduct meetings via video & teleconference,” he tweeted.
No more handshakes, hugs or accolades. No more physical meetings, bilateral summits or multi-lateral gatherings. World leaders and diplomats had to adapt to working from home and have been thrust into virtual meetings.
Diplomacy became truly digital. Within days most diplomatic activity moved online with leaders facing each other off via their respective computer screens. Bilateral and multilateral meetings are now held via telephone or videoconferencing apps, despite having had some teething problems of open microphones and slow internet connections.
The traditional family pictures of multilateral meetings, such as the G7, G20 and the ASEAN summits, have been replaced by a mosaic of screens with leaders sitting in front of their respective flags.
World leaders were quick to use Twitter to communicate and explain lockdown rules, often using the Twitter covers to encourage their followers to #StayHome, #StayAlert and #SaveLives. Many shared guidance on strict hygiene protocols and demonstrated correct handwashing and observing social distancing rules.
The verdict is out whether the diplomatic distancing measures have exacerbated ‘national distancing’ as former UK Ambassador Tom Fletcher argued or whether leaders have actually come closer together through direct and intimate video chats.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry used the lockdown to tweet beyond its traditional audience, reaching millennials and Gen Z Twitter users. “The #CoronaVirus had a dramatic impact on the role of #DigitalDiplomacy, which is now more important than ever before,” the Foreign Ministry tweeted. “Without physical spaces, many use #socialmedia to “socialize” and we’re taking advantage of that with engaging & relevant content that resonates with global audiences.”
The coronavirus has been a key catalyst for the digitalisation of diplomacy. Leaders who only half-heartedly embraced digital platforms are now actively chatting via Google Meet, Skype and Zoom calls and engaging their followers via Periscope. Even Pope Francis joined a Skype interview oddly staring down on his laptop.
Despite the timid resumption of in-person meetings between masked foreign ministers, there is little chance that bilateral and multi-lateral will ever come back to normal. Many large-scale diplomatic events such as the United Nations General Assembly in late September 2020 and the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in January 2021 have already been downscaled with large portions of the debate happening online rather than in-person.
Speaking online without a live audience is a challenge for many world leaders but the chance to pre-record statements offers new opportunities for the leaders’ messages to be heard and seen beyond the meeting room by a global online audience.
The BCW (Burson Cohn & Wolfe) Twiplomacy study 2020 focuses on the how world leaders have tweeted during the coronavirus pandemic and how Twitter has tried to keep the chatter clean from disinformation.
According to the 2020 edition, the governments and leaders of 189 countries had an official presence on the social network, representing 98 percent of the 193 UN member states. The governments of only four countries do not have a Twitter presence, namely Laos, North Korea, Sao Tome and Principe and Turkmenistan.
of state and government of 163 countries and 132 foreign ministers maintain
personal accounts on Twitter. As of June 1, 2020, all 1,089 personal and
institutional Facebook pages of world leaders had a combined total of more than
620 million followers and had posted 8.7 million tweets since their creation.
Tweeting the Coronavirus
Not surprisingly the hashtags #coronavirus and #COVID19 have dominated the Twitter feeds of world leaders since early March 2020.
Philippine Foreign Minister Teddy Locsin Jr. was the first to mention the virus in a tweet on January 19, assuring that the Department of Health and the Airport authorities are “on top of this” adding that the “Last thing we can handle is this kind of epidemic.”
On January 22 the Indonesian government announced the installation of thermo-scanners at 135 entrance points into the country.
A day later, on January 23 the Foreign Ministry of Honduras shared the first infographic indicating the symptoms of the novel coronavirus and the hashtag #PrevenirEsVivir (To prevent is to live)
In his Chinese New Year greetings, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif congratulated the Chinese government for its “timely and decisive response, and the unanimous unity of the entire country, in the fight against the new coronavirus infection pneumonia epidemic.”
In January U.S. President Donald Trump also praised China for their efforts to contain the virus and thanked President Xi Jinping for the transparency.
As the death toll of the pandemic was rising especially in Italy, Pope Francis prayed for those suffering from the coronavirus as well as the healthcare workers and the authorities trying to contain the spread of the virus.
Worldwide tens of thousands expressed their support for the healthcare workers by clapping every evening at 20:00 such as the European Commission European Commission which shared the clapping gif.
The President of Panama tweeted 140 clapping emojis in honour of the healthcare workers.
Many other leaders used the emojis to express their gratitude towards the health workers.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accompanied by their spouses, both came out clapping for healthcare workers.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been leading the weekly #ClapForCarers in front of his residence at 10 Downing Street.
On April 30 his clapping #ThankYouNHS had a very special meaning as it came after his discharge from hospital and the day after his fiancée had given birth to a baby boy.
Boris Johnson has been one of a handful world leaders who tested positive for coronavirus, and in late March he announced that he was going into self-isolation. In early April Boris Johnson’s condition had worsened, and he was hospitalized. He even spent several days in intensive care, prompting his peers to send him get well soon tweets.
Prince Albert II of Monaco, Armenia’s President Nikol Pashinyan, Bolivia’s interim President Jeanine Áñez, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and the Foreign Minister of Burkina-Faso Alpha Barry were all diagnosed with COVID-19.
“The rumour has become reality… I have just tested positive for COVID-19”, he tweeted.
Alpha Barry and a handful of other world leaders, including the King of Morocco Mohammed VI, Chile’s President Sebastian Piñera, El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Czech Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček updated their Twitter profile picture wearing a face mask, a subtle way to lead by example and encourage their followers to do the same.
Others such as Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio have updated their cover picture.
While U.S. President Donald Trump has consistently avoided to be photographed wearing a face mask, First Lady Melania Trump gladly modelled a cloth face covering including a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to wear a face mask.
The members of the White House coronavirus task force started wearing face masks at their meetings only a month later in mid-May and U.S. President Donald Trump finally donned a mask in public while visiting the Walter Reed military hospital in mid-July.
The team of the President of Botswana Mokgweetsi Masisi put together an engaging video to encourage their citizens to wear a mask.
The government of Botswana also launched the #BWMaskChallenge asking their followers to share a selfie wearing a mask.
The South African Presidency encouraged followers to show their support for the lockdown measures by downloading and displaying a Twibbon on their social media profiles encouraging citizens to #StayHome and #StaySafe. Even President Cyril Ramaphosa added the Twibbon to his Twitter profile.
At the end of an address to the nation, Cyril Ramaphosa asked his citizens to wear a face mask but visibly struggled to put one on himself. However, he took it in a stride, promising to teach people how to put on a face mask.
Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová was wearing a face mask, colour coordinated with her dress, for the swearing in ceremony of the new government led by Prime Minister Igor Matovič who was also wearing a face mask.
Some world leaders have shared masked selfies including Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel who tweeted a selfie with his partner: “Happy Europe Day, but with closed internal borders, it’s not the EU we love G&X”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a masked selfie in front of a fountain in Chernihiv, in an effort to promote tourism to the northern Ukrainian city, “a real magnet for tourists!”
Countless government organisations have also updated their Twitter covers spreading health and safety advice on top of their profiles. The Irish government, the EU Commission, India’s Press and Information Bureau and the Vietnam Foreign Ministry added hashtags to their Twitter names including #StayHome and #WeWillWinTogether as well as health warnings on their cover pictures.
The French government paid to promote the hashtag #JeResteChezMoi (I stay at home) among the top trending topics on Twitter to encourage its citizens to stay in place.
Starting in early March leaders took to social media to address the pandemic, encouraging their citizens to wash hands and sneeze into their elbows.
A handful of African leaders, including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, Senegal’s Macky Sall, Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Ali, Burundi’s Mokgweetsi Masisi and Guinea’s Kassory Fofana participated in the safe hands challenge. The campaign, initiated by Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the General Director of the WHO, was designed to show how thorough handwashing is the most effective way to slow the spread of the coronavirus. These leaders also called out their peers to set an example and record a video of themselves washing hands.
Several leaders offered a helping hand to entertain citizens confined at home. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a trained teacher, offered to help parents and children with their homework #CanadaHomeworkHelp. More than 6,500 people commented on his post and sent in questions which the Prime Minister then asked his cabinet members to answer.
Andorra’s Prime Minister Xavier Espot Zamora explained to the young girls and boys that “we have a secret weapon against the coronavirus which is staying at home”
During the coronavirus lockdown world leaders were able to show a more personal side on social media and several of them offered a glimpse into their private lives.
Albanian President Ilir Meta shared a video mowing his lawn and wishing everyone a great weekend.
Mark Brantley, the Foreign Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis produced a series of coronavirus curfew cooking videos encouraging his citizens to stay at home and showing that #MenCanCook too.
Mark Brantley then showed off his physical condition doing push-ups to encourage his followers to stay healthy at home.
The end of the Handshake
Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen asked Austrians to ditch the handshake and adopt the “polite and friendly” Asian greeting to avoid spreading the virus.
The @Israel Twitter account shared a fun short video with several alternative ways to greet including the foot shake.
Social Distancing Diplomacy
The former Prime Minister of Kosovo, Albin Kurti met with U.S. Ambassador to Philip Kosnett at a safe and respectful distance.
As more than half of the world was confined Pope Francis held an extraordinary Urbi et Orbi blessing. Standing alone in the vast rain-battered expanse of St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican he prayed for an end to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
On Good Friday Pope Francis celebrated the Way of The Cross broadcast live on YouTube with only a handful of followers all wearing face masks in an empty St. Peter’s Square.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella was also alone with the guards of honour to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of Italy on April 25 in Rome.
The European Council held its first informal video conference on February 6 to discuss the coronavirus outbreak.
On March 1 the leaders of CARICOM, the Caribbean Community held an emergency meeting via Zoom to discuss the impact of the coronavirus in the region.
At the start of the first ever video conference of the European Council, Council President Charles Michel needed to remind all participants to “Please, mute your microphone.” Most of the 27 participants shared pictures watching the conference call on their video screens.
By mid-March world leaders were suddenly thrust into digital meetings and zoom calls. But there was a clear digital divide between those using state of the art recording facilities and others simply using their laptops.
The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas held his first video summit with his counterparts from the Visegrád countries the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia in a fully equipped studio including live translations booths.
The three Baltic Presidents simply used their laptops to connect for the regular tripartite summit.
Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid propped up her laptop on a shoe box which she dubbed “Guerilla remote working!”
When Panama’s President Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo chaired his first virtual cabinet meeting he was looking at a single flat screen instead of his ministers around the cabinet table.
When UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson chaired his “first ever digital cabinet” meeting on Zoom he inadvertently shared a screenshot including the conference ID.
The planned state visit of Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili was replaced by a telephone conversation with her Swiss counterpart Simonetta Sommaruga. While the Swiss President was pictured using a traditional landline probably for security reasons, the Georgian President simply used her mobile phone.
New Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou met with her Estonian counterpart Kersti Kaljulaid in an online video chat.
During their bilateral video meeting the President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian and the President of Georgia, Salome Zourabichvili discussed the current challenges and “spoke about the life during and after the coronavirus.”
The new Foreign Minister of Malaysia, Hishammuddin Hussein, held a bilateral video conference with his Saudi Arabian counterpart HH Prince Faisal bin Farhan and shared the video recording of the first couple of minutes on Twitter.
One of the defining official acts a diplomat has to perform is the presentation of the diplomatic credentials, a highly codified ceremony in which the ambassador hands over the letter of credence from his government to the host nation. Due to the pandemic the Foreign Minister of Bahrain Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani, received copies of credentials from a number of ambassadors-designate via video conference.
The Lithuanian mission filmed the moment Ambassador Edminas Bagdonas handed over the letter of credence.
The G7 leaders of the most industrialized nations decided to hold an extraordinary video conference in mid-March. Instead of the traditional family picture, the Japanese government shared a picture of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looking at a screen with his counterparts.
Canadian Prime Minister took the G7 video call from his home where he was self-confined after the revelation that his wife had been diagnosed with COVID-19.
At the end of March Saudi Arabia convened an extraordinary G20 virtual summit to discuss the coronavirus pandemic. The setup for online summit was more professional with each leader seated in front of a large flat screen. The Chinese leadership probably won the contest for the biggest room and the biggest video display.
Organizing large-scale, multi-lateral summits online is a challenge to say the least. The Estonian government, which held the presidency of the UN Security Council in May, brought representatives from 80 countries to the virtual stage to share their contribution on #LessonsForPeace, 75 years after the end of World War II. The event using an event platform developed in Estonia was widely hailed for its flawless execution.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen single-handedly moderated a three-hour long online Coronavirus Global Response pledging event with live and recorded statements from countless leaders pledging a total of €7.5 billion (USD 8 billion) to ramp up work on vaccines, diagnostics and treatment and to defeat the virus.
By mid-May, Israeli diplomat Joshua Brook had coined the term ‘Zoomplomacy’ as leaders shared screen grabs and pictures of their online meetings.
Obviously, video diplomacy didn’t happen without some teething problems, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel experienced on a video link with Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organisation when the audio connection was a bit patchy.
By July world leaders had gotten used the virtual meetings and the Presidents of the Andean Community found a fun way to stage their traditional family picture.
It has become new digital diplomacy etiquette to warn all participants on a video conference before capturing a screenshot so that everyone can look their best.
The New Face of Diplomacy
At their first in-person meeting, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Luxembourg counterpart Jean Asselborn didn’t shake hands but held a face mask as they met on the Mosel River in Schengen to celebrate the reopening of the borders.
When Heiko Maas met his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio in Rome, both men were wearing face masks and elbow bumping instead of shaking hands.
This is likely the new face of socially distanced diplomacy and the new normal
At the first in-person meeting of the EU Foreign Affairs Council since the coronavirus lockdown in July ministers were wearing masks, some with their national colours and none shook hands.
The Foreign Ministry of the Dominican Republic looked back nostalgically at how diplomacy was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic, collecting all pictures of Foreign Minister Miguel Vargas shaking hands with his peers and visitors just a few months ago.
Engaging the Media and the Public
Press conferences, the staple of any international meeting, have also gone online. Peter Stano, the lead spokesperson for the European Union’s External Action Service, shared a picture of the empty press conference room and the journalists calling in via video connection for the daily midday briefing.
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness started to use Zoom for media briefings, first sharing the Zoom meeting link and then restricting it to journalists only.
German and French leaders Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron held a virtual press conference after their consultations via live video link-up from Berlin and Paris to brief reports on the outcome of their virtual meeting. However, the press conference streamed live on Periscope didn’t allow for audience participation.
The UK government, on the other hand, has repeatedly encouraged its followers to send in questions for the daily coronavirus press briefing encouraging direct two-way interaction with the citizens via social media.
Boris Johnson has sat down to answer some of these questions. In one of the first of these People’s Prime Minister Question Time he was asked to answer: “What shampoo do you use?”
Even Pope Francis agreed to join a Skype call from his laptop to chat with Spanish journalist Jordi Évole who asked him bluntly whether “In a situation like this, even a Pope could doubt the existence of God?” “Obviously”, the Pontiff replied. “No one is exempt from existential temptations.” Adding that “I have had my own crises of faith, and with the grace of God, I’ve resolved them.”
The @Israel Twitter account, managed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, conducted two epic Twitter Q&A sessions during the lockdown challenging its followers to “Ask Us Anything.” The idea was “to lighten the mood and give our followers an opportunity to think about something else other than COVID19” said the community manager behind the idea adding: “We also understood that it would be beneficial to take advantage of the fact that many people are home and are looking for interesting and entertaining content.”
The account manager didn’t dodge political questions but replied with humour and a lot of chutzpah when someone asked why Israel couldn’t get along with Palestinians.
Some of the best replies from the @Israel Ask Me Anything session are compiled in this Twitter Moment.
“People don’t expect a foreign ministry to answer non-diplomacy related questions (especially using memes, emojis & pop culture references) and this has resulted in us reaching many people outside our typical circles to share Israel’s story in a non-conventional way” the community manager reported.
The two sessions which were managed by one person generated more than
1,100 replies, 10,000 engagements and 165,000 impressions. The replies to the question
whether to do this again were mainly positive.
Fighting the Infodemic
As the virus spread across the globe so did disinformation on social networks and Twitter decided to surface relevant and trusted sources on the platform.
By the end of January, Twitter had created special coronavirus search prompts to direct users to trusted and authoritative sources about the novel coronavirus.
Twitter also decided to actively verify hundreds of health experts, including health ministers around the world as well as the entire WHO senior management.
However, there are still many world leaders desperately waiting to be verified. The President of Botswana, Mokgweetsi Masisi, who was recently verified on Instagram is still waiting for his blue badge on Twitter.
The Czech Foreign Ministry publicly requested for their accounts to be verified, a request which was granted several months later but the personal account of Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček is still not verified.
In 2020 Twitter stepped up the fight against state-sponsored disinformation and misinformation. In early January, Twitter suspended countless accounts related to the Venezuelan government for violating Twitter’s rules. Among the suspended accounts was @PresidencialVen, the presidential account of Nicolas Maduro’s administration with 1.1 million followers. The account, which had sent more than 100,000 tweets since its creation in April 2010 was again suspended in March 2020 and hasn’t been reinstated yet.
In April, Venezuela’s government created a new Twitter account for the presidential administration @PresidenciaVE. In mid-March, the personal account of Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodríguez @DrodriguezVen, which boasted more than 500,000 followers, was also suspended and her institutional account @ViceVenezuela was restricted for unusual activity. She has since created a new account @drodriven2.
On March 22, Twitter went a step further and simply deleted a tweet from Nicolás Maduro’s Twitter account. The president of Venezuela had shared a series of links to articles pointing to a supposed coronavirus remedy which included mixing lemon grass, elderberry, ginger, black pepper, lemons and honey.
Twitter also flagged two misleading tweets from the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s deputy spokesperson Lijian Zhao who alleged that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. Both tweets were tagged, prompting users to «Get the facts about COVID-19» linking to reputable sources.
U.S. and Chinese diplomats have repeatedly clashed over the origin of the COVID19 virus, a war of words which was fought out in plain sight on Twitter. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson tweeted a video statement explaining that “Confirmed cases of #COVID19 were first found in China, but its origin is not necessarily in China. We are still tracing the origin.” In retaliation U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly referred to COVID19 as the #WuhanVirus which didn’t help to appease the tensions.
Over the past six months Chinese ambassadors and embassies have set up accounts on social media channels including Twitter which is still banned in mainland China. At the same time Chinese diplomats have become much more assertive, openly attacking the U.S. administration on its home turf.
When State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus criticised the Chinese Communist Party for having broken its promises to the people of Hong Kong with the new national security law, her Chinese counterpart Hua Chunying tweeted back: “I can’t breathe” echoing the last words of George Floyd who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.
These kind of digital diplomacy broadsides are a clear indication of the current state of the Chinese-U.S. relations. It is also interesting to note that neither @MFA_China nor @SpokespersonCHN follow any of the U.S. government accounts but they do follow the Russian and Iranian foreign ministries on Twitter.
Twitter’s fight against misleading information on its platform culminated when two tweets from Donald Trump alleging mail-in ballots would lead to fraud were flagged for fact checking. The U.S. President immediately retaliated by signing an executive order aiming to remove some of the legal protections social media platforms enjoy.
The tit-for-tat Donald Trump and Twitter found its apogee when Twitter flagged one of Donald Trump’s tweets for “glorifying violence.”
The tweet which quoted the sentence coined by Miami police chief Walter Headley in 1967: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” was not deleted but hidden from the public’s view.
When the White House shared the identical tweet several hours later it was immediately flagged and hidden by Twitter but not the tweet shared the White House Digital Director Dan Scavino who had put the quote on a picture. Liking and commenting on the hidden tweet has been disabled.
action by Twitter was a stark reminder to government officials and world
leaders that they are not free to post incendiary tweets and that the health of
the network is paramount.
Most Followed World Leaders on Twitter
Donald Trump is still the most followed world leader with more than 81 million followers and counting. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi moves into second position ahead of Pope Francis who has 51 million followers on his nine different language accounts.
How does @realDonaldTrump keep his momentum on Twitter?
In his own words, he has an army of “Keyboard Warriors” liking, retweeting and amplifying his messages, far better than any ad agency could do, according to the president.
The U.S. President’s followers have grown by a third year on year, while Pope Francis followers only increased by a mere 6 percent and Queen Rania of Jordan has seen her follower count stagnating at 10.4 million.
The official account of the President of the United States @POTUS grew by 17 percent to over 30 million followers, which is surprising since the account merely retweets tweets from Donald Trump’s personal account and amplifies selected tweets from the White House account.
Most Effective World Leaders on Twitter
U.S. President Donald Trump is the most effective world leader on Twitter since each one of his tweets garners on average 24,000 retweets which is slightly better than Saudi King Salman who garners 23,573 retweets per tweet.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and Pope Francis also stand out since they have an exceptionally good retweet per follower ratios with their messages reaching well beyond their followers.
True Reach of World Leaders on Twitter
However, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
leads the rankings in terms of true reach as calculated by Klear.com. Modi reaches
on average 40 million followers or 70 percent of his followers with his tweets,
twice as many as Donald Trump who only reaches an audience of 20 million or a
quarter of his followers.
Most Listed World Leaders on Twitter
Twitter lists have recently seen a comeback as Twitter is shifting the focus on interest-based conversations. Being featured on a Twitter list also indicates how authoritative an account is.
The @realDonaldTrump account appears on 114,000 Twitter lists ahead of the emergency account of the Japanese government @Kantei_Saigai which was set up in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
Most Active World Leaders on Twitter
The Presidency of El Salvador is the most active organisation, sending more than 100 tweets per day. The governments of Guatemala and the Foreign Ministry of Venezuela are not far behind with more than 90 tweets per day.
The Foreign Minister of the Philippines, Teddy Locsin Jr., the President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele and the Prime Minister of Slovenia Janez Janša are the three most active world leaders, posting on average more than 60 tweets per day.
Most Conversational World Leaders on Twitter
The @Hello_Sarkar (Hello Government) Twitter account set up by the Nepalese government is the most conversational governmental account, with 96 percent of its past 3,200 tweets directly replying question from Twitter users. The Dutch @Rijksoverheid and the @GOVUK accounts are also designed to reply mainly to questions from Twitter users.
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Félix Tshisekedi, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, also use their Twitter feeds mainly to chat publicly with their fans and followers.
Best-Connected World Leaders on Twitter
The Icelandic Foreign Ministry tops the ranking of the best-connected foreign ministries with 147 mutual peer connections on Twitter. In second place with 145 connections are the European External Action Service (@EU_eeas), the UK Foreign Office and the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Mutual connections are literally priceless and a good indicator of the state of mutual relations.
The White House is the most followed institution, followed by 315 heads of state and government and foreign ministers. The @POTUS account is in second place with 264 peer connections, slightly ahead of the @realDonaldTrump account which is followed by 261 world leaders.
Donald Trump follows only 46 other Twitter users, mainly his family members, the Trump organisation, its hotels and golf courses and a range of FOX TV hosts. However, Donald Trump doesn’t follow any foreign leader and recently unfollowed the only foreigner he had been following, Piers Morgan, presenter of ITV breakfast show who had criticized the U.S. President for lacking leadership in his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The State Department is the fourth most followed institution, followed by 222 world leaders, however it is not among the best connected mutually following only 59 other leaders.
The @StateDept account no longer follows Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif which speaks volumes about the state to the U.S.-Iranian relations.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently engaged in a Twitter spat with Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif after he had criticised the U.S. for being racist. “Some don’t think #BlackLivesMatter,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted. “To those of us who do: it is long overdue for the entire world to wage war against racism. Time for a #WorldAgainstRacism.” “The U.S. government is squandering its citizens’ resources, whether its adventurism in Asia, Africa, or Latin America…,” Zarif tweeted based on a press statement that Pompeo issued after street protests in Iran in 2018, but with some of the words changed.
Coronavirus Emergency Repatriation
The pandemic has kept foreign ministries busy as they organized the repatriation of their citizens stranded abroad. More than 590,000 people have been flown back to the European Union alone. Many foreign offices and diplomatic missions shared pictures of their citizens about to board charter flights from around the world.
Foreign ministries activated their crisis centres such as the South African and German foreign ministries. During the height of the repatriation the German Foreign Ministry received 38,000 comments and messages on social media which is five times as many compared to the previous month. The Swiss Foreign Ministry reported more than 10,000 calls, 18,000 e-mails and numerous messages on social media.
The Belgian Foreign Ministry and several others documented their repatriation campaign in video and shared it on Twitter.
The social media manager of the Belgian Foreign Ministry, Laurens Soenen tweeted having posted 500 social media posts, answering more than 1,000 questions per day which resulted in 15,000 new followers and 2 million unique impressions over the past two months all the while working from home.
The digital manager at the UK Foreign Office Jack Pearson shared a glimpse of the “Foreign Office digital operation” consisting of two laptops a mobile phone on his kitchen table.
Most Followed Arab Leaders on Twitter
Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan is still the most followed leader in the Arab world, with 10,441,750 followers as of June 1, 2020. However, her account has almost stagnated year on year and Sheikh Mohammed, the Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, is in a close second with 10,285,642. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman is in third position with 8,387,104 followers.
Most Followed Sub-Saharan African Leaders on Twitter
Muhammadu Buhari, the president or Nigeria, is by far the most followed Sub-Saharan African leader with 3,121,169 followers ahead of Paul Kagame the president of Rwanda with 1,910,159 followers. Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of South Africa, has seen the biggest growth over the past year more than doubling his followers reaching 1,386,849.
Most Followed EU Leaders on Twitter
French President Emmanuel Macron is the most followed EU leader, with 5,293,346 followers as of June 1, 2020 ahead of his institutional account for the Elysée Palace with 2,492,468 followers. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is in third position with 1,405,481. The French and the Spanish leaders have seen their followers grow by a third year-on-year.
Most Followed Latin American Leaders on Twitter
Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador is Latin America’s most followed leader, with 7,098,711 followers ahead of Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro with 6,625,551 followers. Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro is in third position with 3,814,896 followers. Nayib Bukele, the president of El Salvador and Iván Duque, the president of Colombia, have seen the strongest growth year on year both doubling their follower numbers.
Most Followed Foreign Ministries on Twitter
The U.S. State Department is by far the most followed foreign ministry, with 5,843,040 followers on Twitter. The foreign ministry of Saudi Arabia and the foreign ministry of India complete the top three with 2,708,727 and 1,461,097 followers respectively.
Most Followed Foreign Ministers on Twitter
UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan is the most followed foreign minister, with 4,660,798 followers, ahead of Pakistan’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi with 3,110,444 and Mike Pompeo in third position with 1,938,027 followers.
The U.S. Secretary of State has almost tripled his follower count year on year and Ernesto Araújo, the foreign minister of Brazil was able to double his follower count.
About this Study
The Twiplomacy Study is BCW’s latest research into how world leaders, governments and international organizations communicate via social media.
For the eighth edition of the report, BCW has identified a total of 1,089 Twitter accounts of heads of state and government and foreign ministers, 632 of which have been verified by Twitter and carry a blue verification mark.
Data was collected on May 1 and June 1, 2020, using Twitonomy.com, Audiense.com and Klear.com to capture the true reach for accounts.