The Social Network of G20 Leaders

Ilan Manor @Ilan_Manor

The mass migration of diplomats, diplomatic institutions and world leaders to social media has altered the practice of diplomacy. Nowadays, foreign ministries (MFAs) and embassies are part of a myriad of online social networks in which information is disseminated, gathered and analyzed. Over the past 3 years, I have attempted to illustrate this social networks through analyzing the extent to which foreign ministries, embassies and diplomats now follow one another on social media. My analysis has shown time and again that not only do diplomats follow their peers online, but they do so in growing numbers.

For instance, in 2014 the average foreign ministry was followed by 15 of its peers on twitter. In 2016, this number is expected to rise to 30. The social networks of diplomatic institutions are thus growing closer and denser. These trends demonstrate the importance diplomats and their institutions ascribe to official social media accounts. By following their peers, MFAs may anticipate global events, gain insight into other countries’ foreign policy and manage their bi-lateral relations. By disseminating information on social media, MFAs are also able to disseminate their foreign policy throughout the global diplomatic milieu.

This month, in preparation for the G20 summit, I decided to analyze the social network of world leaders that will attended the conference in Turkey. My goal was to evaluate the extent to which these leaders follow their peers online and possibly interact with one another online. I began by compiling a sample of the twitter accounts of 26 leaders. This sample may be seen in the table below.

Using the Visone program, I mapped the social network of these world leaders which may be viewed in the image below.

What is most striking about this network is how dispersed it is. The network lacks a dense center in which the most active world leaders may be situated. This is a result of the fact that very few leaders seem to be avid followers of their peers on twitter. In fact, as opposed to the average MFA which is followed by 30 of its peers, the average world leader is followed by 3 of his peers. In an attempt to further analyze the network, I calculated three important parameters. The first is the in-degree parameter which measures the popularity of each world leader in the network. This is an important parameter as the more popular a leader, the greater his ability to disseminate information among his peers. The table below presents the 10 most popular world leaders in this network. These leaders are also identified in the image that follows.

The results of the in-degree parameter suggest that the leaders of larger nations attract more of their peers. However, one should also note the very high ranking of S. Africa’s President as well as the absence of Russia’s Vladimir Putin and both EU Presidents from the list. In addition, leaders of the Latin America and Spain seem to dominate this network. The leaders of Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico all received high scores on this parameter.

Next, I evaluated the out-degree parameter. This parameter indicates which world leaders are the most avid followers of their peers. This parameter is also of great importance as the more leaders one follows the grater his ability to gather information from his peers. The table below presents the 10 world leaders that are most avid followers of their peers. These leaders are also identified in the image that follows.

As can be seen, four of the leaders with the highest in-degree score (Obama, Cameron, Zuma, Erdogan) did not rank high on the out-degree parameter. Thus, it seems that reciprocity does not define the online social relations between these leaders. Also, as was the case with the in-degree scores, leaders of Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico dominate the out-degree

Finally, I calculated the betweenness parameter. This parameter identifies which leaders serve as important hubs of information as they connect leaders that do not follow one another directly. The table below presents the 10 world leaders that received the highest betweenness scores. These are also identified in the image that follows.

As can be seen, three world leaders who scored high on the betweenness parameter did not receive high scores on the in-degree or out-degree parameter (Australia, Singapore & Malaysia). Thus, while these world leaders may not attract many of their peers they do serve as important hubs of information connecting world leaders to one another. Interestingly, EU Presidents which are by nature hubs of information given their multi-lateral standing did not receive high betweenness scores nor did any of the Asian leaders. In fact, this network seems to be characterized by the peripheral location of Asian leaders. It should be noted that the leader with the highest betweenness score is Spain’s President Mariona Rajoy Brey. Therefore, as is the case with the social network of MFAs, leaders of smaller countries in terms of GDP and national population seem to be able to use social media in order to increase their nation’s visibility and standing. I refer to this occurrence as social (media) mobility.

It is, however, important to note that 4 leaders received high scores in all three parameters. Thus, they attract many of their peers, serve as information hubs and are avid followers of other world leaders online. The “A-Team” of world leaders on social media are Mariona Rajoy Brey of Spain, Dilma Roussef of Brazil, Cristina Fernandedz de Kichner of Argentina and Francois Hollande of France. Note that three of these leaders are from the Latin America and Spanish. It therefore seems that Latin American leaders are the most central figures in the social network of G20 world leaders.

Finally, I decided to evaluate the extent to which world leaders are able to attract mass followers online. The larger a leader’s online audience base, the more influential his digital diplomacy activity may be. This analysis is shown in the table and graph below.

As can be seen, the 10 world leaders with most followers are a mixture of geographic regions and economic size. Leaders from France, Canada and UK trail their peers from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Turkey. However, it should be noted that many of these leaders’ followers may be national citizens and not global audiences. (Note: President Obama was excluded from this image given the high number of followers which exceeds 65 million twitter followers placing him in a league of his own).

As part of my attempt to explore the appeal of world leaders, I also compared the number of followers world leaders attract with those of their national MFAs. This comparison may be seen in the image below.

As can be seen, among all leaders sampled, world leaders are far more popular online than their respective MFAs. While many of these followers may be from the national citizenry, it is possible that MFAs should better utilize the mass appeal of world leaders and integrate them more holistically into the national digital diplomacy effort.