Twittering world leaders: #boring

RNW archive

This article is part of the RNW archive. RNW is the former Radio Netherlands Worldwide or Wereldomroep, which was founded as the Dutch international public broadcaster in 1947. In 2011, the Dutch government decided to cut funding and shift RNW from the ministry of Education, Culture and Science to the ministry of Foreign Affairs. More information about RNW Media’s current activities can be found at https://www.rnw.org/about-rnw-media.

World leaders are fervent twitterers – it’s just a shame they’re so dull. Forty-two percent of all heads of state and government leaders have a Twitter account, according to a recent study by US bureau Digital Daya.

[media:factfile]The most popular among them is US President Barack Obama, with more than 16 million followers. And Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez recently hit the three million mark.

But are any of them actually worth following? Have they got anything interesting to say for themselves? And do they answer back? Radio Netherlands Worldwide runs down the ten most notable Twittering world leaders.

1. @BarackObama
More than 16 million followers, more than 4000 tweets.

US President Barack Obama’s Twitter account is mainly full of tweets by his campaign staff. Personal messages from the president are signed ‘BO’, but it’s not often he has anything to say. Followers mostly get positive tweets about the president’s achievements. And now the election campaign is underway, negative tweets about his Republican rival Mitt Romney. At least there’s the occasional photo for light relief – like a cool young Barack smooching with Michele back in 1992 or Barack playing ball in collar and tie.

2. @chavezcandanga
More than three million followers, more than 1600 tweets.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is a keen twitterer and has more followers than any other Latin American head of state. He calls the medium ““a weapon that also needs to be used by the revolution”.
Chávez’s tweets are all upbeat messages about Venezuelan prosperity, wise government decisions and the fruits of the revolution and socialism. His tweeting has greatly boosted Twitter’s popularity in Venezuela. But of the 200 most followed Venezuelans, 90 percent are fervent opponents of Chávez, research has shown.

3. 2number10gov
More than 2 million followers, more than 3500 tweets.

British Prime Minister David Cameron comes in at number three, but his account doesn’t offer much of any interest to follow. Cameron doesn’t tweet himself, but has an “Executive Director of Digital’ dubbed in the UK press as “a highly paid Twitter Tsar”. The tweets are about policy plans and meetings. The only entertainment comes in the form of photos of Cameron chatting to young entrepreneurs, nurses or foreign leaders.

4. @cbabdullahgul
More than 1.8 million followers, more than 800 tweets.

Turkish President Abdullah Gül tweeted a year ago:
“In my opinion, there should be no restrictions on freedom. People should be able to surf the internet freely.”

He actually only uses Twitter to post photos. Gül with businessmen, Gül with foreign ministers, Gül addressing a crowd, Gül inspecting a building project, Gül in his private jet: the Turkish president is one of the more entertaining world leaders on Twitter – especially if you don’t speak Turkish.

5. @HHShkMohd
Nearly 900,000 followers, more than 700 tweets.

In the Middle East, Twitter played an important role in the Arab Spring, but the region’s leaders don’t bother with it much. The big exception is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates.

The PM tweets about his country’s achievements, and occasionally offers his wise advice about inner happiness and welfare. The Sheikh is also on Facebook and even has his own iPhone app.
The most popular twitterer in the Middle East is Jordan’s Queen Rania (@QueenRania) with more than 2.1 million followers.

6. @noynoyaquino
Nearly 900,000 followers, more than 100 tweets.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is the top twitterer among the Asian leaders. Not that he’s had much to say recently. “Thank you for all your greetings,” was his last tweet – on 8 February 2011. Other prominent twittering Asian leaders are Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Indonesian President Yudhoyono doesn’t tweet himself – as far as we know – but there’s an official-looking account featuring news about him: @presidenSBY.

7. @SAPresident
More than 120,000 followers, fewer than 100 tweets.

The most popular African leader on Twitter is South African President Jacob Zuma. He tweets about once a month, for example with congratulations for Bishop Desmond Tutu on his birthday, or greetings to Muslims celebrating Eid.

After Zuma comes Rwandan President Paul Kagame, @PaulKagame, with nearly 63,000 followers. Kagame is unusual in that he tweets almost daily, buy rarely makes political statements or messages about the country. He mainly sticks to answering other people’s tweets, ranging from questions about political issues to requests for shoutouts for someone’s birthday.

8. @MinPres
More than 100.000 followers, more than 500 tweets.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s Twitter account is run by the Government Information Service, so it’s not exactly thrilling. It’s mainly about parliamentary debates and reports. You won’t get an answer from the PM on Twitter, though you can ask him a question via his website. From time to time Rutte posts a video on YouTube answering questions.

9. @Netanyahu
More than 54,000 followers, nearly 500 tweets.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu mainly has photos of meetings and hopeful tweets like: 'Joint statement issued at end of meeting: #Israel & the PA are committed to achieving #peace.'

10. @govofvanuatu
Finally, an honourable mention for the government account with the fewest followers: the Twitter account of the government of Vanuatu has around 140 followers. All they receive are brief reports and links to the government website.

So, do the world leaders respond to their followers? We sent all the above leaders the following tweet: 'Hello president .....! I have a question: do you answer questions from your followers?'

We’ve heard nothing from Barack Obama. But Rwandan President Paul Kagame replied, “Yes I answer questions from followers...!” Obliging, though a ‘no’ would have been... well... less boring.