Introducing the 2013 #cdnfp Twitterati

Carolyn McCaffrey introduces OpenCanada's list of who's driving the Canadian foreign policy conversation on Twitter.
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January 11, 2013

Last June, Foreign Policy’s second annual list of 100 Twitter must-follows got a lot of attention, not for who was listed, but for who was left out – only a dozen women made the cut. Soon after the FP Twitterati’s release, a group of women tweeters crowdsourced an all-female version, the #FPwomerati.

The #cdnfp Twitterati is the all-Canadian version. And like all of these lists, it inevitably leaves people out. While women are better represented in the list, most of the #cdnfp Twitterati are male. They’re also mostly white and Ontario-based. These demographics might reflect lingering institutional biases in the international relations field, but there’s also room for some crowdsourcing to fill in the gaps. Still, the list, as it stands, represents a spectrum of foreign affairs voices in Canada, reflecting and raising questions about the current state of Canadian foreign policy.

Like many of us, the #cdnfp Twitterati were U.S.-election-obsessed in 2012. But when they weren’t counting the number of Canada mentions during the debates, many of them – specialists and non-specialists alike – were tweeting about the Middle East. The #cdnfp Twitterati’s Middle East and North Africa experts and watchers, including Hadeel Al-Shalchi, Dalia Ezzat, Lisa Goldman, Mark Sedra, Nahlah Ayed, and Citizen Lab, continue to collectively portray a complex picture of the region, allowing Canadians to engage with the full roster of MENA states.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hashtag for his 2012 fall tour of Asia, #pmasia, is his second-most-used hashtag to date, and this renewed interest in the region on and off Twitter seems to resonate with the #cdnfp Twitterati. The list includes the Asia-Pacific Foundation and no fewer than two experts on Mongolia, a country that relies on Canada as its second-largest source of foreign investment after China. There are also several full-time Asia-based correspondents listed, like TheGlobe andMail’s Twitter-savvy Mark MacKinnon and Stephanie Nolen – a sign of the Canadian media’s own investment in Asia.

Some of the #cdnfp Twitterati’s blind spots mirror those in Canada’s foreign policy. The Canadian government’s much-hyped 2007 turn to Latin America, at Africa’s expense, has largely fallen short, leaving Canada relatively disengaged with both continents. This disengagement shows through in the #cdnfp Twitterati list. While there is some Africa coverage, mostly through the lens of development, there are no authoritative voices on Latin America listed, but I encourage you to follow the CIC’s own Latin America expert, Jennifer Jeffs).

There are a number of other noteworthy Canadian foreign policy names missing. Louise Arbour, Lloyd Axworthy, and Michael Ignatieff are all on Twitter, but they either tweet infrequently, are too formal in their tweets, or rarely interact with other Twitter users directly. Stephen Lewis, Janice Stein, and Jennifer Welsh don’t seem to have Twitter accounts yet. They may all have good reasons to go Twitter-light or Twitter-less, but their influential voices on issues of human rights, international conflict, and humanitarian aid are missing in (at least, Twitter) debates ranging from Canada’s human rights record to the Canadian International Development Agency’s shifting aid priorities to whether Canada should intervene in Syria.

Canadian public servants are a growing presence on Twitter. For the most part, though, Canadian ministers with foreign affairs portfolios still put policy before personality, and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) continues to mostly follow its own kind. Playing it safe on Twitter might make sense when the state of digital diplomacy is, as Brian Fung puts it, “messy,” and its effects still unclear. However, there are a few DFAIT employees experimenting more openly with twiplomacy, and it will be interesting to see if their risks pay off in 2013.

One noticeably absent public servant is the Bank of Canada’s soon-to-be ex-governor. For now, we’ll have to make do with the fake @GovernorCarney. When there’s a void like this, the Twitterverse often serves up a timely parody account, sometimes to deliver sharp commentary, and sometimes just to remind us not to take Twitter too seriously.

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