After encountering many angry eggs, U.S. Ambassador to Libya quits Twitter

Today, Ambassador Safira Deborah tweeted that she would stop using Twitter herself because doing so was distracting from the twin goals of “peace and stability” that the United States of America had in Libya. It was unclear whether it was her communication choices that led to the decision, the reception she encountered on the platform or some combination of the two factors. Twiplomacy created a timeline of her tweets, if you want to see them natively on Twitter.

The ambassador tweeted out a 8-part statement today, working within Twitter’s character limitations. She offered context for her initial decision to use the real-time social media platform, stating that it the “only way to reach out” for public diplomacy, in the context of Libya’s security situation and that her goal was to “encourage a transparent dialogue with all Libyans.”

SafiraDeborah@SafiraDeborah: “Dear Tweeps -and not so dear Tweeps- when I opened a Twitter account last year it was to encourage a transparent dialogue with all Libyans,” she tweeted. “Given the security situation in #Libya, Twitter was the only way to reach out and I am pleased to have developed a following of over 49k .” [Mon, Mar 23 2015 17:54:09]

What she found on Twitter lately appears to have led her to conclude that such a dialogue was not possible:
“Unfortunately, it seems there are some more focused on parsing and distorting “tweets” than reading actual statements of US policy,” she tweeted. “I have from time to time gone on strike against Twitter militias and those who resort to vulgar personal attacks in lieu of arguments. I have concluded it is best to cease efforts to communicate via Twitter insofar as it distracts from our goal of peace & stability 4 #Libya.” [Mon, Mar 23 2015 18:05:40]
Thumbnail for U.S. Embassy - Libya (@USAEmbassyLibya) | TwitterThe ambassador clarified that, while she would go silent, the United States delegation to Libya would continue to use Twitter on the embassy’s official account,@USAEmbassyLibya.
“We shall continue to post official statements on our embassy FB account. To all those responsible & thoughtful Tweeps out there, thank you.
She then offered thanks and tweeted the Arabic phrase for “goodbye.”
“Getting to know thoughtful, dedicated Libyans via Twitter has been an inspiration & given me great hope 4 Libya’s future. I wish you well. Masalaamah.”
There was some context for her apparent decision, from a few hours before the statement: the ambassador tweeted about violence in Tarhouna, a town to the southeast of Tripoli, and experienced a wave of angry tweets in response.
“Terrible news today from #Tarhouna where 8 innocent displaced #Tawergha killed in air strikes. This violence serves no one’s interests. My last tweet based on sources on both sides. Numbers may need correction but bottom line remains: violence serves no one. Fascinating reactions when I didn’t assign blame just decried the ongoing violence. Says so much about #Libya and why peace so difficult. Condemning violence also means condemning the reported killing of Colonel Hibshi’s family members and innocents who support Dignity. This info followed info on the other strikes: both are wrong and we condemn both. The violence must cease. Period. The unacceptable violence in #Tarhouna against innocents-whether Col Hebshi’s family or others-underscores the need for Leon to succeed. P.S. Sadly, I have begun to block those who use vulgarity or call for harm to me or my family. Disagree with me but do so with dignity.”
If you search Twitter for her username, the response to her decision to leave a field of engagement in what might fairly be described as an information war was heated. In the wake of this choice, it will be interesting to see whether the State Department offers any additional guidance for its ambassadors using social media to directly engage the people in the countries their mission is in. Will angry, abusive tweets that harass or threaten ambassadors prove sufficient to poison the well for public diplomacy in less than 140 characters?

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