This week marks a year since Secretary of State John Kerry took office, and one way he's celebrating his anniversary as America's top diplomat is by reactivating his Twitter account, which had been dormant for months.
Kerry - @JohnKerry on Twitter, complete with the coveted blue "verified" checkmark - marked his return with this tweet Tuesday morning to his more than 100,000 followers:
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) February 4, 2014 State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki announced the "relaunch" of Kerry's Twitter account at the midday briefing, saying the move came out of Kerry's desire to "make foreign policy less foreign" by connecting directly with Americans about his work.
Kerry is known for being verbose and for veering off script, potential challenges given Twitter's 140-character limit and quick dissemination of tweets to the world. No doubt his public affairs team will be at least vetting his tweets, if not composing them on his behalf. Nobody wants a repeat of the "Kyrzakhstan" affair. Or the Pakistan drone time table gaffe. Or the Egypt "restoring democracy" debacle.
Kerry is hardly alone as a world figure on Twitter, where a growing number of leaders - or their handlers - are breaking news, forging diplomatic relations and taking one another to task via social media. A recent Foreign Affairs article argued why that's a good thing:
In a profession where inappropriate, unclear, or careless phrasing can undermine countless hours of painstaking negotiation, it might seem like a huge risk to send public messages limited to a paltry 140 characters that can go viral almost instantly. Yet today hundreds of diplomats around the world have official Twitter accounts, and the numbers are growing weekly. Diplomats are not only permitted but encouraged to tweet, especially by the U.S. government, which has touted social media engagement as a key part of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 21st Century Statecraft initiative...Let's hope the State Department minders don't sanitize Kerry's tweets too much. In his previous job as a U.S. senator representing Massachusetts, his timeline was an engaging mix of politics, sports and his pet causes - like many Americans' feeds. In addition to Beltway luminaries, the 214 people he follows include David Ortiz of the Red Sox, The Colbert Report, and Massachusetts' own Dunkin' Donuts.
The most common form of diplomatic tweeting is routine dissemination of condensed versions of official statements, often with links to a full-text original. These may not be sexy or glamorous, but they provide useful insight into day-to-day diplomatic activity and expose policy statements to casual users not likely to seek out or come across official communications.
Kerry has tweeted about Boston's best cannolis, posted a photo of a tin man he dubbed "Mitt" (as in robotic Romney), and ordered a Boston-area Olympian to "kick butt" in judo.
In December 2012, a Twitter user praised Kerry's tweets as "a little random, yet on pt." Kerry RT'd the tweet, adding, "there are worse epitaphs!"