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G8 Leaders' Twitter Relationships Out Of Sync With Diplomatic Ties

OTTAWA (CP) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will follow seven other world leaders to the French seaside this week for the G8 summit.

But he doesn't follow them on Twitter.

Seven of the eight G8 leaders have a presence on the microblogging site, either through accounts in their name, that of their office or a spokesman, or in some cases all three.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is absent from the site.

Harper doesn't follow any of the accounts for the British, Japanese or French prime ministers or the German chancellor, according to analysis performed using the website

Nor does he follow U.S. President Barack Obama.

Of those, the only leaders who follow Harper's Twitter account are British Prime Minister David Cameron and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The Russian president is also the only leader Harper follows.

The way world leaders handle social media is out-of-sync with the protocol-laden world of diplomatic relations, suggests Matthias Lufkens, the associate director for media at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He's been tracking the world of Twitter diplomacy since last year.

"I haven't seen any political leader who has any clear clue of who they should follow," said Lufkens in an interview.

"It's all very haphazard and inconsistent."

By his count, of the 62 world leaders from 49 countries that use Twitter, only 25 mutually follow at least one other leader.

When Medvedev joined Twitter last year, Obama had joked that the new technology could mean a change in how world leaders communicate.

"We may be able to finally throw away those red phones that have been sitting around for so long," he told reporters at the time.

Hold the phone on that.

While the official White House Twitter account did issue a welcome to Medvedev on Twitter, there's no evidence the two sides have ever used to site to chat since.

Other leaders have dabbled in Twitter diplomacy from time to time.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stolenberg exchanged pleasantries via Twitter in advance of the Cancun climate change talks in the fall. Medvedev and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger used it to agree on going skiing together sometime.

Harper, former Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, NDP Leader Jack Layton and even former Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe clearly took the medium seriously in the last election, using it to spar with each other.

There's no reason why senior government officials couldn't use the service to communicate directly, Lufkens said, especially in an era where transparency and personal connection are political buzzwords.

If security is a concern, sites like Wikileaks prove the hush-hush world of diplomatic relations is over, he said.

"The new way to communicate is much more open," he said.

"The time of secrecy is over."

Very clear signals are sent by who follows who online, suggested Lufkens.

He points to the fact that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad follows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but the relationship is not reciprocated.

"That says a lot about the relationship between these two men," said Lufkens.

Twitter also sends a signal about how leaders view themselves, he suggested.

A look at the account for the British Monarchy is a good example.

They don't follow anyone.

While the G8 leaders may not be tweeting away on their Blackberrys, the role the Internet can play in safeguarding human rights and freedoms is part of next week's conversation.

The Deauville meetings are also being preceded by the first ever e-g8 forum, being held in Paris.

It's being billed as an opportunity for the digital world's major players to weigh in on international issues.

Those attending the meeting include the heads of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Wikipedia, major media corporations and mobile companies.

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