The United Nations was a Twitter wasteland when I first started tweeting back in January 2010. Virtually no governments were on Twitter and only a handful of journalists. The main Twitter handle promoting U.N. activities was run by some guy in England who ran an automatic feed of the U.N. Secretary General's daily schedule. Today, confidential briefings of the U.N. Security Council routinely travel through the Twittersphere well before the diplomats emerge from their meetings to address the press. One American diplomat tweets the occasional closed-door budget meetings, while big-power press aides sometimes vie with one another to fire off a 140-character announcement of an important diplomatic development. And dozens of U.N.-based reporters tweet all manner of news -- highlights of Ban Ki-moon's briefings (and amusements). How else would I know that Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai visited the United Nations on Monday?
Twitter, of course, has also become the go-to destination for the wider community of academics, advocates, diplomats and, I suspect, spooks eager to scour reporters' posts of confidential documents. Once upon a time, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., declared to a press aide that urged her to join Twitter: "I don't believe in foreign policy by Haiku." Now, she does. So, as the U.N. General Assembly kicks off today, we decided to assemble a list of the best U.N. tweeters to help you track the week's news.
The big Western powers -- the United States, Britain, France, and Germany -- have held a lock on Twitter diplomacy, using the medium far more ambitiously than their peers. Diplomats at other U.N. missions, including Iran and Russia, have a few key Twitter accounts, but they don't say much. Russia, for instance, leaves most of its tweeting to the Foreign Ministry -- @MFA_Russia -- or a handful of senior officials, including Vice Premier Dimitri Rogozin -- @DRogozin -- and Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov -- @Ggatilov -- a former U.N. official himself.
@ambassadorrice: In terms of sheer numbers, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is the reigning queen of Turtle Bay's Twitter community. Lots of newsy tweets on Security Council business, and the occasional holiday tweet from the Taj Mahal or some other far-off destination.
@USJoe_UN: Joe Torsella, the
U.S. ambassador for management and reform, grouses about U.N. inefficiencies
and occasionally discloses the contents of budget discussions. (He should have more
followers.) A typical tweet:
#UN supply chain makes uphill
battle for these go-getters. Inventory here still entered BY HAND. Party like
@franceonu: I used to taunt the French diplomats in the days they had fewer followers than me. They blew past me over the past year and haven't looked back. This is among the most ambitious of the official government Twitter feeds, using quizzes and videos of French diplomats explaining the inner working of U.N. committees to lure followers.
@UKUN_NewYork: The official British Twitter handle is a solid source of statements from New York and London, particularly on Africa and Middle East matters before the United Nations.
@GermanyUN: Germany has it's Twitter feed shrewdly, pushing quotes from the German ambassador, Peter Wittig. It also provides useful links to Germany Foreign Ministry statements on a wide range of issues, including Syria and Iran.
@israelinUN: The Israeli mission to the U.N. came a bit late to the game, but they provide a useful stream of breaking Israeli news. (I believe this is the first place I noticed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement criticizing Ban Ki-moon for visiting Tehran.)
THE UNITED NATIONS:
The United Nations may have been a bit slow to get up and running. But it has produced a number of useful Twitter handles, offering photos from the U.N. stable of high-quality photographers @unphotos, documents from the @unlibrary and videos and press conference from @UNWebcast or @UN_TV
@UN: This is the main U.N. twitter handle, serving more than 1 million followers.
@UN_Spokesperson: Ban Ki Moon's press office.
@wfp: The World Food Programs official handle.
@reliefweb: Excellent source of news stories, analysis and primary documents from the world's most far flung locales.
@UNpeacekeeping: Official feed for the U.N. Peacekeeping Department.
@UNrightswire The official Twitter feed for the U.N. Human High Commissioner for Human Rights.
@miafarrow: She gives celebrity activists a good name. UNICEF Goodwill ambassador and long-time Darfur advocate, Mia Farrow tweets with real passion, humor and deep knowledge of the issues. She can also tell you what it was like to be married to Frank Sinatra -- pretty great.
@olavkjorven: The UNDP assistant secretary general's lively Twitter feed focuses on poverty, climate change, and development aid. At typical tweet: "Yikes: Avoiding dangerous climate change is still possible, but just barely."
@tveitdal: Sven Tveital tweets on climate change in Norwegian and English.
@UNECOSOC: The official Twitter handle for Milos Koterec, the president of the U.N. Social and Economic Council.
@ValerieAmos: The U.N.'s emergency relief coordinator, Valerie Amos, occasionally tweets about the U.N.'s good deeds in desperate places. The tone is earnest, announcing relief programs in Mali or a link to a photo of a poor child that has been saved by $100 worth of assistance. Not a lot of personality.
@melissarfleming: Spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, Melissa Fleming is a former reporter with news sense, and a good ear for a quote or tweet. Provides links to foreign policy news stories, and will keep you abreast of refugee issues.
@heraldomunoz: A former Chilean dissident, ambassador and author who now serves as U.N. assistant secretary general for economic affairs in Latin America, Heraldo Munoz peppers his twitter feed with a bit of soccer news.
@HelenClarkUNDP: With more than 23,000 followers,
the UNDP chief and former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark has among the largest followings for a top U.N.
official. But the feed can be a little dry: For instance: "Good meeting today with
#EU #Development Commissioner @APiebalgsEU of @EU_Commission. EU is strong partner of @UNDP."
@StephDujarric Stephane Dujarric, a
senior official in the Department of Public Information, has a personal Twitter
with a mix of personal and official observations. Good idea for a story. A
recent tweet: "See
#qatar and #un have worked to replace child
jockeys with robots in traditional camel races. http://bit.ly/IuMxJm. @unmultimedia."
THE ANALYSTS, OBSERVERS AND ADVOCATES:
There are a lot of terrific analysts on issues that matter at the U.N., including Middle East specialists like Hussein Ibish (@ibishblog) and Marc Lynch (@Abuaardvark). On the conservative side, there seem to be fewer voices, though Danielle Pletka (@Dpletka) is worth following. Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John D. Bolton is there (@AmbJohnBolton), but it seems like an assistant is basically posting links to his op-eds and appearances on Fox News.
@kenroth: Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights, is an obsessive tweeter, making him the dominant human rights voice on Twitter. And he's not afraid to pick a fight with powerful players.
@BruceBrookings: Bruce Jones, director of the NYU Center
on International Cooperation, this one-time advisor to Kofi Annan once revealed
his disdain for Twitter on his Twitter bio. No more. He's caught the bug. He is
also married to the U.S. ambassador for economic and social affairs, Elizabeth Counsens,
so he gets to go to all the receptions. Recent UNGA Tweet: "Today, Jury duty in Brooklyn;
tonight, reception with POTUS at Waldorf. Both cool. Talk about 360 view of
@salman_shaikh1: A former U.N. political officer, Salman Shaikh is director of the Brookings Doha Center. He has become a prominent voice on U.N. diplomatic efforts in Syria on Twitter and beyond.
@J_Laurenti: Veteran U.N. watcher Jeffrey Laurenti, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, tweets both about the U.N. and his beloved New Jersey -- from the East River to the other side of the Hudson.
@Richard_gowan: Richard Gowan, the deputy director of New York University's Center on International Cooperation has become one of my favorite academic voices on the U.N. Deeply informed on U.N. matters, he has a knack for discovering obscure. Good sense of humor.
@multilateralist: David Bosco, fellow Foreign Policy blogger, scholar and author of Five to Rule -- the essential reading on the workings of the U.N. Security Council -- tweets on all things multilateral.
@carneross: Former U.N.-based diplomat Carne Ross runs the non-profit advocacy group Independent Diplomat, which provides diplomatic advice to governments and political groups, including South Sudan, Polisario and Somaliland.
@RichardGrenell: Richard Grenell was the U.S. spokesman to the United Nations throughout the Bush administration, and briefly served as Mitt Romney's national security spokesman. Expect highly partisan pro-Romney tweets. Essentially trolling the Twitterverse for stuff to bash Obama. Particular obsession with Susan Rice's attendance record. A typical Grenell tweet: "Obama sends Susan Rice to defend his actions on Libya? The Ambassador who got 3 vetoes on Syria is hardly a good way to show strength."
The U.N.-based journalists are generally the least scripted and best sources of information about goings on at U.N. headquarters. If you want to know what's going on at the Security Council you've got to follow several of these folks, including @Ben Moran, @marcellehopkins, @barinm, @pamelafalk, and @mbesheer.
@lou_Reuters: Terrific reporter, retweets a lot of Reuters' best stories on the Middle East and foreign policy. He doesn't do commentary, but you won't want to miss his scoops.
@BBCBarbaraPlett: Something of a late bloomer on the Twitter scene, Barbara Plett is among the most economical tweeters, short, newsy and too the point. Not a lot of opinion.
@NabilabiSaab: Nabil Abi Saab, the U.N. correspondent for Al Hurra, the U.S. funded Arabic language satellite television broadcaster, reports in Arabic, but he uses his twitter feed to post internal Security Council and General Assembly documents in English. His posts have been indispensable during closed door negotiations on Syria.
@undispatch: The Twitter feed for U.N. Dispatch, a U.N. advocacy blog funded by the U.N. Foundation and run by Mark Leon Goldberg. The site, which draws on reporting from several freelance writers, covers a range of U.N. issues from climate change to peacekeeping.
@InnerCityPress: Matthew Lee, occasionally cranky, and naturally conspiracy-minded, the Inner City Press has embedded himself deeply in the U.N. bureaucracy, and delivered many scoops, though his analysis has often left me scratching my head.
@KarimLebhour: A French reporter who Tweets in English, Karim Lebhour has a good eyes for the weird ways of the United Nations. He's also the guy who keeps an eye out for Bollywood stars for the rest of us.
@hayesbrown: Hayes Brown is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer and blogger who follows the U.N. closely, and who has developed a following even though he started without much of an institutional affiliation.
@denisfitz: Denis Fitzgerald, one of the first reporters to sign up for Twitter, is at U.N. headquarters most days and has a good eye for hidden news nuggets.
@bennyavni: The conservative Israeli-American columnist for the New York Post, Benny Avni is worth following, especially when Netanyahu's in town.
@flaviajackson: And Flavia Krause-Jackson at Bloomberg New is a good read.
Apologies to those I missed who should be on this list, and now finally:
Please follow me @columlynch
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.