New frontiers in Twitter diplomacy: Barack Obama, the president of Iran, and Jack Dorsey

By now, most of us are pretty used to seeing Twitter as a powerful tool for real-time discussion around global events — discussion that in some cases includes the actors involved in those events, such as the historic back-and-forth between the Israeli army and the Palestinian group Hamas earlier this year. But even though that seems almost routine now, it’s still impressive to see how far-reaching Twitter can be, and how it lets the “sources go direct.”

In one of the most recent examples, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and U.S. president Barack Obama exchanged pleasantries on Twitter both before and after a historic telephone call — then on Tuesday, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey followed up with his own discussion with Rouhani about Twitter access and freedom of speech in that country.

Iranian account live-tweets historic phone call

The exchange between President Obama and Iran’s president occurred on Thursday, as the two men were starting a phone call that marked the first official direct contact between a U.S. president and the leader of Iran since 1976. The Twitter account for Rouhani — which hasn’t been verified by Twitter but has apparently been confirmed as the Iranian president’s account by the White House — live-tweeted the discussion between the two. Although those tweets have since been deleted, BuzzFeed managed to get a screen capture of them:

Obama and Rouhani on Twitter

Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, posted a comment that suggested even he was impressed that an Iranian president had taken to the service and was using it to converse with the president of the U.S.:

Jack Dorsey asks Rouhani a question

On Saturday, Twitter co-founder Dorsey posted a message welcoming Rouhani to Twitter, saying it was “inspiring” to see him using the service. Then on Tuesday morning, Dorsey asked him if the citizens of his country had the same right to use Twitter — a question that might have been spurred by comments from observers like former advisor to the Secretary of State Alec Ross, who said after the Obama-Rouhani exchange that “Rouhani cannot justify using Twitter for public diplomacy if he denies his citizens the right to use it.”

The President of Iran (or someone posting to Twitter on his behalf) responded — and even managed to squeeze in a longer message by truncating words and using numbers instead of words like “to,” as though he had been text messaging and tweeting for years:

Whether Dorsey’s appeal helps convince Iran to loosen the restrictions on the use of social media in that country remains to be seen (according to some reports, those restrictions had already begun to weaken before the Obama phone call or the back-and-forth with Twitter’s co-founder). But it’s probably a safe bet that no one would have predicted even a few years ago that a sitting Iranian president would be posting and responding to messages on a service like Twitter for the world to see.