Soft power from Twitter

The growth in social media’s popularity is transforming the nature of soft power across the globe. The latest analysis conducted by The University of Edinburgh for the British Council explores the implications. For more click here

Also, it reveals how the UK is a significant net exporter of influence through Twitter.

But it warns against over-emphasizing the influence of social media on its own to influence opinion and create how events are portrayed.

The social media industry

It  is the newest stage in the global battle to influence. There is a growing recognition of non-governmental and government actors for their ability to influence the lives of millions all over the world. Between Obama and Modi, Politicians are increasingly engaged in digital diplomacy.

In addition, Daesh continues to use social media to gain supporters, both through its violent terror propaganda and with campaigns in Arabic that aim to attract people’s attention by highlighting the realities in the areas it governs that it hopes will appeal to a select group of.


Internet technology click here

It  can speed up and provide more affordable forms of mass communications. They make global connectivity more accessible. However, they are simultaneous; they make the internet more complex. They are challenging the existing models of influence and the traditional hierarchy of power.

Twitter and Facebook are also excellent sources of extensive data. They can also be used to build new models due to our ability to recognize our image as other people see us and comprehend how others’ choices are formed by large-scale people-to-people contact.

These models will, in turn, guide how we conduct ourselves and convince within the global context of communication in which the perception and influence of networks are essential. This applies to organizations, individuals as well as governments.

A recent analysis

Conducted for The British Council by the Centre for Cultural Relations at the University of Edinburgh by a multi-disciplinary team comprising Prof. Jon Overlanded (Informatics), Professor Julie Kaarbo (International Relations), and Stuart MacDonald (Executive Director of the Centre) has begun to investigate the significance for social media within the current international issues.

The team drew on Edinburgh’s strengths in Informatics. The team began by analyzing the vast amount of data on Twitter to assess the impact of the UK’s social media throughout the world.

It adds to the growing evidence base to suggest that the next phase of the soft power revolution will be the collection and analysis of large amounts of data generated by digital media and the development of responses to what the data can reveal.


The Net Exporter for Influence

The University of Edinburgh analysis has included an examination of Twitter usage in connection with recent geopolitical developments. The study examined the world’s Twitter usage during the crucial times of these crises, including the Syria and Ukraine crises of the years 2021 and 2021.

It looked at retweets and tweets (in English) and was capable of creating heat maps that showed which topics were being debated and the general positive or negative reaction to these issues and countries by country.

In addition, and most importantly, it is utilized to calculate the total balance of retweets worldwide to determine the influence.


It is important to note

That, at present, these analyses are pretty crude. Notably, positive sentiment is dependent on an analysis of linguistics.

Negative views of Ukraine reached their highest during the week when it was reported that the Malaysian Airline aircraft was downed over the country – expose negative views posted in tweets about Ukraine and do not suggest hatred towards the country or a preference for one of the different side of the war.


The “cumulative clout’ in the UK per person on Twitter during critical periods was more significant than any nation.

However, the study does reveal it was the case that in Ukraine and Syria crisis, the UK was among the biggest exporters of tweets through tweets that were retweeted.

In addition, the “cumulative power that the UK per person on Twitter in critical times was more significant than any other country, and was significantly more than the USA. In addition, there was a sense that the UK was regarded as a positive influence when tweets were posted about Ukraine.

The UK could be considered an essential exporter of opinion and influence over the last few international incidents based on these factors.

Citizen Journalists?

However, a study of relevant research literature (also carried out at the University of Edinburgh for the British Council) cautions against taking too much credit for the ability of social media on its own to effect changes. From the failed 2021 ‘Twitter Revolution from Iran to the Arab Spring to Daesh,

Social media hasn’t (yet) proven to be the powerful, purely positive ‘liberation technology’ people once believed. While it may allow users to share information when traditional media is often censored or viewed as hostile, it can also be controlled or monitored.

Regimes can even use social media to give people the opportunity to voice their grievances and create the illusion of freedom of expression. At the same time, they subvert or divert the debate.



They make it simpler and less expensive for people to organize around a common goal or cause. However, that cause will be influenced by more underlying social, political, or cultural aspects. As the popularity of Daesh has proven that there is no way to guarantee that the outcome will be a positive one.


Other examples were the London protests in August 2011. The analysis of Twitter revealed that social media enhanced the coverage of events because it allowed ‘citizen journalists’ to be ahead of traditional media. But, it also propagated false stories, such as the famous tale that animals were escaping to London Zoo. The rioters were also helped by organizing and avoiding the police themselves.


In the Arab Spring, social media aid in disseminating information and bringing local dissent into the national movement. There is, however, evidence that suggests that Facebook-based mobilization efforts did not work and that TV, specifically Al-Jazeera had an even more significant role. Social media allowed expatriates to feel “participated” during this Egyptian revolution.

But, 75% of the tweets about the uprisings were from the West instead of Egypt itself. At the time of the protests in 2009 in Iran, Non-political issues were more popular on Twitter than those that dealt with politics among the younger generation in that country.


In reality

Social media is mainly utilized in non-political settings. Most users utilize Twitter to communicate with people within the same nation who have their views.

This makes its use to achieve specific diplomatic goals challenging. It’s more likely to create a sense of consensus than to change the mind quickly regarding particular topics. This makes social media more effective as a facilitator of influence over the long term.


The Twitter analysis

Done by the University of Edinburgh is just the beginning. More research needs to be conducted to enhance our knowledge of social media’s role in the international arena. However, its conclusions regarding the impact of the UK through Twitter in major global crises are shocking.

Even though they warn against exaggerating the significance of social media’s role, they also point to its increasing importance as a research tool and application for soft power and global influence.


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