Twitter, Emerging Markets & Digital Diplomacy

Twitter announced on May 7th of 2012 that it has made significant changes to its software for mobile devices (iPhones, iPads, tablets and BlackBerry’s etc.) so that it uses less bandwidth than previous versions – all ostensibly to benefit users in emerging markets (read: developing nations.) The first obvious intent of such a move is for marketing purposes to drive revenues. That is of course, the initial strategy. But it has deeper implications in terms of public diplomacy or eDiplomacy.

In Moldova in 2009, citizens planned to use Twitter to start a revolution. It failed miserably. In 2009, Twitter featured prominently in the Iranian failed Green Revolution (although some research indicates most “tweets” in support of the Iran revolution were coming from non-Iranians outside Iran.) The use of Twitter by the Occupy movement and during the protests against Keystone XL Pipeline are examples more regionally. In terms of revolutions, Twitter cannot and will not create revolutions, that is the work of humans. But Twitter can, and has, played a critical role in organising and communicating. Such was the case in Egypt and during the Arab Spring as a whole.

With the app for mobile devices now to become more accessible in low-bandwidth areas, the can provide a critical tool to those in less democratic nations who want to rally people to a cause or create attention in Western nations. It is key to realize that Twitter enables a more global engagement than ever before; but that’s another blog post.

For those practicing Digital Diplomacy or eDiplomacy, this is yet another tool that becomes more readily available in terms of reach and engagement. Although it is interesting to note that most “emerging markets” that are building wireless/cellular networks often end up with better bandwidth and cheaper access to more services than found in Canada and the U.S. and many EU countries. As an example, Haiti has implemented a 3G network, rivalling that of Canadians and many American cities at comparable lower cost. Still, a lower bandwidth Twitter app is good in many ways.