Hashtags, US State Department, Russia and power politics

The Obama Administration have always been big fans of social media. It played a key role in his election, both in 2008 and 2012.  The whole focus of this blog is the role of social media in politics. As wonderful a tool as it is for politics, it does have its limitations. One of those places where it has very little impact is international relations. It is far beyond the scope of this blog to discuss the events over the last few months in Ukraine. However when found out about this tweet I just had to blog about it.


Earlier today the US Secretary of State John Kerry held a press conference about the situation in Ukraine. Just before the conference, former Obama Campaign Staffer and now State Department Spokes Person, Jen Psaki sent the following tweet:

State department


Hashtags as a great way to focus the attention of social media onto a set of keywords. If enough people tweet to a hashtag it starts to trend, pushing it up the list of hashtags on the front page of Twitter. When this happens, more and more people get pulled in, thus reinforcing this and leading to more growth. Doing this can help spread a message, or it can just be for fun. It will draw people’s attention to the topic who might not otherwise know about it. A recent example in New Zealand was #crossthefloor, which was trying to encourage a member of the current government to cross the floor to vote against GCSB bill. Or from Australia we have #notinmyname about the boat people.


However, when it comes to foreign policy, I suspect getting #UnitedforUkraine or #Kremlin trending on Twitter is not going to influence the policy making process in the Kremlin. Though there is a role for hashtags as indications of support to help maintain the morale of those under stress, #eqnz is a good example.


If she has just tweeted “The world stands #UnitedforUkraine” that may have helped get the hashtag going. However, it is the bit on the end that makes you wonder what they think they can achieve with a hashtag. Does the spokesperson for the US State Department really expect that a hashtag is going to be able to do what the threat of sanctions hasn’t been able too? It is this implication that is causing the most issues for people. There is nothing wrong with trying to use all tools available in foreign policy, so much of it is about the hearts and minds aspect, but putting the statement at the end that she did has opened up a line of criticism that is going to detract from the original intention of the tweet. This is one of the key things that many people forget, Twitter users are great at hijacking hashtags.

There have been examples of Twitter being used in international relations, but they have mainly been reactions to events that have already happened. The most famous has to be the tweet from the President of Iran about talking with President Obama.


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Twitter is a great tool, with many unseen powers, but but it needs to be used well, as part of an over arching strategy. Social media should not be done from the hip.