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Published on May 28, 2024
MIT Study Reveals Tweets by World Leaders Carry Weight Comparable to Formal StatementsSource: Unsplash/ Jason Leung

Forget the pomp and circumstance of official statements; when it comes to world leaders sounding off warnings, it turns out tweets pack the same punch. MIT researchers have uncovered that the public and foreign policy experts view policy warnings on social media with as much gravity as those issued through more staid, formal channels. The study, published in International Studies Quarterly, punctures previous assumptions that social media bluster could be shrugged off as less credible. "They’re viewed as the same type of signal as that being offered through more formal and traditional communications," Erik Lin-Greenberg, an MIT professor involved in the research, told MIT News.

The scholarly work turned heads by highlighting the changing nature of how messages from high offices are digested. Over 180 world leaders keep the digital populace in check through tweets and posts, but the reverence they're granted might have little to do with the scrolling and swiping it takes to find them. In their research, which conducted surveys in 2021 and involved nearly a thousand general public responses and input from sector experts, researchers used hypothetical showdowns between the U.S. and Iran to probe the depths to which these social snippets had sunk into the collective consciousness. Rating credibility on a scale, both camps tallied nearly matching numbers for tweets and traditional press releases.

Turns out, even those seasoned in the art of diplomacy place their trust in the brevity of 280 characters as much as in time-honored press communiqués. Policy experts lined up their ratings, doling out a 3.10 score for the verbal finger-wagging of formal statements and a 3.11 for their tweet-length counterparts. Benjamin Norwood Harris, a primary contributor to the study, highlighted the consistent perspectives across the board: "No matter how we cut the data, we just don’t see much difference in how respondents rated Tweets versus official statements," as reported by MIT News.

The inquiry didn't just stop at the medium; it also nudged into the realm of political leanings and leader recognition. A follow-up survey posited the same U.S.-Iran conflict, but tossed in communications attributed to Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump, in a bid to measure the weight of presidential personas. Interestingly, the Trump versus Biden face-off revealed a slight tilt favoring Trump, albeit muddled by a clear partisan split. “People who see a tweet don’t really differentiate it in their minds. They don’t think the tweet is not an official statement," Lin-Greenberg underscored, reflecting on the nearly three-quarters of respondents who regarded tweets as coordinated government communications, according to MIT News.

While these findings suggest an evolution in public perception, the distilled takeaway is that a leader's chosen soapbox—be it aged oak or pixels on a screen—matters less than the utterances they proclaim. As the political landscape morphs with the times, this research points to a broader conversation on how emerging technologies are reshaping international diplomacy, signaling a potential shift in how future crises might be not just communicated but comprehended on the global stage.

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