Barack Obama could reach 70 million people with one of his tweets. As one of the most renowned world leaders, Angela Merkel could also gain extensive outreach on social media. So what is the rationale behind the German Chancellor’s decision to refrain from posting on Twitter?
World leaders use Twitter to advance their political position and interact with other policymakers. Twiplomacy or hashtag wars have become popular among heads of state and governmental officials. The majority of UN members have a strong political outreach on Twitter. With regards to social media activity, Germany distinguishes itself from other G7 states. Neither the German Chancellor nor the German President has an active Twitter account. While Angela Merkel occasionally uses Twitter to follow fellow policymakers’ activity, she doesn’t tweet herself. What causes the Chancellor of Germany to refrain from using the platform which has taken the world of politics by storm?
@mathiasrichel “She [Angela Merkel] doesn’t tweet herself, but she’s reading along. That has just been revealed in a pretty close camera shot from the @tagesthemen of Angela Merkel’s iPad in the general debate. Hello, Chancellor!”
Can one of the most prominent European leaders afford to freely share her opinion?
Twitter has been known to spark controversy and incite international conflict amongst policymakers. For example, Theresa May, UK Prime Minister at the time, together with other European politicians, openly criticized the Russian government on Twitter after the nerve agent attack in Salisbury. Despite her influence, Chancellor Angela Merkel has to be more careful in sharing her opinion. While she is watching from behind the curtain, a number of staff members carefully script her political statements to avoid controversy.
Merkel established herself as a broker of workable compromises and a crisis solver in the European Union. The entire political world closely observes and scrutinizes her actions. As a result, Angela Markel refrains from publicly sharing controversial opinions and grand visions for the future. Instead, she offers suggestions for incremental changes to the status quo to stabilize the situation. Thus, her style of forging diplomatic relations does not fit the blunt and fast-paced Twitter environment.
Does Angela Merkel have concerns about the power of Twitter?
According to Angela Merkel’s chief spokesperson Steffen Siebert, she thinks that “the right to freedom of opinion is of fundamental importance.” Thus, she criticizes Twitter’s decision to ban Donald Trump’s Twitter account due to the Capitol Hill riots. Merkel’s opinion is that national governments rather than private companies should decide on freedom of speech limitations.
Perhaps Merkel’s concern about the power of Twitter to shape social discourse stems from the German history of totalitarian regimes. Both the Communist and Nazi regimes in 20th century Germany used traditional media to spread propaganda and censor opposing voices. It might very well be that Angela Merkel has identified similar concerns about Twitter which have put her off the platform.
Is old school the new school?
One can wonder whether Merkel’s lack of presence on Twitter is a failed opportunity or a dodged bullet. Despite Twitter becoming an effective communication tool for global leaders, it is also a place of disputes and conflicts. Twitter is increasingly criticized for sparking cyber-conflicts and polarizing political groups. With this in mind, Merkel’s strategy is to remain on the sidelines of the social media buzz and avoid unnecessary conflicts or faux pas. With fifteen successful years as a Chancellor, Angela Merkel built her political profile around promoting stability and effective crisis management. In the age when a few tweets can make or break a politician, maybe her strategy to watch from afar is the way to go?
Go to our Twitter Trends page to find out more about how Twitter affects global and national politics.
This article was originally published in English. Translations were generated automatically and might be incorrect.
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