Two weeks ago, it seemed like there might be a major confrontation between the US and Iran. Garrett Graff, writing in Wired, suggested that Twitter may have helped stop a war with Iran. That might be a bit of an overstatement, but it does illustrate how international conflict might be affected by something as simple as social media.
He has written about the Cold War and reminds us how difficult communication was between Russia and the US during the Cuban Missile Crisis. If you are over the age of 60 or if you have watched the movie “Thirteen Days” then you might have some understanding of the struggles the countries had in trying to communicate.
Communications moved slowly. It took the US Embassy in Moscow nearly 12 hours to encode a message from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Embassy had to rely on a bicycle messenger from the local DC office of Western Union. Because of all the problems, the two countries developed a hotline between the two leaders.
Compare that to what happened the night Iran launched missiles at military bases in Iraq. At 9:32 pm ET, the Iranian foreign minister posted a tweet that Iran has “concluded” a proportionate response. It added that Iran did “not seek escalation or war.” It’s worth mentioning that he speaks fluent English since he received a PhD in international law from the University of Denver and has a Twitter account with 1.4 million followers.
Just 12 minutes later, President Trump tweeted to his 70 million followers a sober and encouraging message. It simply said “all is well” and “so far, so good.” Reading between the lines, you could assume that the US would take no further actions, and everyone could go to bed.
I doubt anyone involved in developing Twitter ever thought it could be used for international diplomacy. But earlier this month, that is exactly how it was used.