Furore over twitter transport joke doesn’t stop international diplomacy in 140 characters

Shashi Tharoor is probably not a name familiar even to readers of The Voice who follow online politics closely, but he’s one of the highest profile politicians on Twitter. The Deputy Foreign Minister of India, he has approaching half a million followers on Twitter.

He’s had some criticism for travelling in first class air travel and staying in five-star hotels, even though in both cases he says he pays for it himself.

Asked in September whether he’d consider travelling in standard (aka “cattle class”) in future, he deployed humour: “Absolutely, out of solidarity with all our holy cows.” The result? Complaints from Hindus, travellers and opposition politicians – though many seemed to be looking for an excuse to criticise someone they don’t like rather than having been actually offended.

Reports at first suggested the Prime Minister was unhappy with his joke, but he defended Tharoor in public saying, “It was a joke”.

The experience doesn’t seem to have put Shashi Tharoor off Twitter because he recently met with Bahrain’s Khalid bin Ahmad Al Khalifa and Egypt’s Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a tripartite diplomatic meeting – at which they tweeted:

@ShashiTharoor: Trilateral tweeting! RT @khalidalkhalifa: My friend Ahmad (Egyptian FM) and I had dinner at cafe. we tweeted with @ShashiTharoor while there

As CNN reported:

In one of Al Khalifa’s early posts, he joked he had joined the social networking tool inspired by Tharoor. “You converted me to twitter..but I remain a good Muslim,” he tweeted. Since then, the Bahraini foreign minister has tweeted a lot about India and bilateral ties.

“Every Bahraini has some kind of a connect to India. be it travel, friendship, education, or maybe love of bollywood and bhangra beats,” he said in an India-related post.

Whilst complicated diplomatic negotiation certainly isn’t appropriate for Twitter, another vital part of diplomacy are the personal relations between negotiators and here, as these exchanges demonstrate, even Twitter can help smooth the way.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Online politics.
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