Russia: Officials Embrace Twitter. By mistake

Russia's August 31, 2010, State Council Session (devoted mostly to education-related issues) saw some of its more prominent attendees tweeting away: in public. The story of Nikita Belykh, the Governor of Kirov region, and his Twitter feed seems to have been one of the highlights of the day, and quite obviously became a much discussed [RUS] topic in the Russian media [RUS] (as well as the blogosphere [RUS]).

The most prominent mention, perhaps, came from the state-owned Channel 1 [RUS]. Russia Today TV made sure to run the story, and it actually trickled into some of the Western media as well: The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and the Passport Blog (Foreign Policy Magazine) picked it up.

For the readers who don't know Russian, here's a short summary of the “incident” from The Wall Street Journal.

President Dmitry Medvedev did, indeed, interrupt his speech to make a special mention of Belykh's tweet. Everyone involved might have taken it as a joke, for now, but Belykh – a former opposition leader – will certainly have to know better next time.

Medvedev has been a vocal advocate for the adoption and use of new technologies in Russia for quite some time now. He has several blogs (there's one in English, too), and started a personal Twitter account during his June visit to Silicon Valley. After all, having a technology-savvy President only befits the image of the “New Russia“, the promotion of which has become a major foreign policy task for the country.

Tweet-o-mania seems to be getting a little out of hand with other officials, however. Apparently, social media have become fairly popular with many politicians, governors, and presidents of some of the Republics. As RIA Novosti points out, the subjects they touch upon in their tweets and blogs range from personal vacation impressions, birthday congratulations, and Twitter-chat sessions with their constituents (quite prolific, by the way), to notes about troubles encountered on the way to their “dachas”.

Here are some highlights worthy of special mention:

- Presidential advisor Arkady Dvorkovich@advorkovich:

Will be giving a presentation for some foreigners, tomorrow. The eternal question [is]: should I tell them about how bad things are (something they like hearing), or [rather] what we are doing about it (which they don't believe)?

- Ramzan Kadyrov of Chechnya used his blog to announce the change in his formal title: he doesn't go by ‘President’ anymore. The Chechen Parliament apparently passed a bill, according to which he will be the ‘Head of the Republic’. He made sure to emphasize that “all members voted ‘for’ [the bill].”

- And of course – the ever-present Vladimir Zhirinovsky@Zhirinovskiy:

Will give the ostrich to better care, [perhaps] to one of the Russian zoos, let people see this wonderful bird! Communication with animals is beneficial for people.

(It's still a mystery to me as to what he was referring to, on the day of the State Council Session! There are no other mentions or references to ostriches anywhere else on his Twitter feed.)

And of course, there is Russia's Ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, and his “bombastic” Tweet-o-activity (@Rogozin), who has been in the news for many months now. (He is very funny to follow, by the way!)

In short, as many other countries and institutions have realized, there can be many different uses for social media (public diplomacy among those). However, when they are used by official representatives themselves, the latter should not forget that social media are primarily social and, therefore, can easily lead to (political) perdition.

The post was originally published at Global Chaos.


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