There were 123 heads of state and governments using Twitter to communicate with citizens and the rest of the world as of December 2012, a think tank said Tuesday.
The number is up 78 percent on 2011, according to a study released on Tuesday by the Digital Policy Council (DPC), an international think thank that has been tracking governments' Twitter activity since 2009. Of the 123 tweeting heads of state, 32 were represented by government accounts that use Twitter on behalf of the head of state, the DPC said.
While the United Nations has 193 member states, the DPC only studied Twitter use in 164. It monitored countries with a population of over 500,000, the same ones included in the Polity IV dataset of political regimes tracked by the U.S. government's Political Instability Task Force. DPC chose that dataset because it wanted to compare politically stable countries, said Omar Hijazi, managing partner of Digital Daya, of which the DPC is the research and public advocacy arm.
U.S. president Barack Obama (@BarackObama) was the most-followed head of state, with 24.6 million followers. He added 15 million followers in 2012, according to the study. His account, mainly managed by his staff and sometimes used by the president himself, broke a Twitter record when his election victory Twitter message, "Four more years", became the most retweeted Twitter message of all time, according to Twitter.
The second most-followed head of state on Twitter is president Hugo Chávez (@chavezcandanga) of Venezuela, with over 3.8 million followers. Chávez mainly used Twitter for communicating with his electorate when he found himself fighting an election campaign from his sick bed in Cuba, using the social network to challenge his opponent and fighting the rumors about his health, the DPC said.
President Abdullah Gül (@cbabdullahgul) of Turkey ranked third. He tweets mainly in Turkish and gained over 2 million followers in 2012, reaching a total of over 2.5 million.
The most-followed woman on the list is Queen Rania Al Abdullah (@QueenRania), who as a queen consort of King Abdullah II of Jordan is not a head of state herself. She is included in the list though, because she used her account as a political channel to represent the viewpoints of the king in the past, Hijazi said. And although her political messages have dwindled, her tweets are still "very much related to the policies of the head of state," he added.
Her account gained over a million followers in 2012, reaching a total of almost 2.5 million. She describes herself as "a mum and a wife with a really cool day job" in her Twitter profile.
A newcomer in the top ten is Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, who has accounts in Russian (@MedvedevRussia) and in English (@MedvedevRussiaE). Medvedev was president of Russia until May 2012 when Vladimir Putin was elected for his third (non-consecutive) term as president. DPC included Medvedev in its list because he continued using Twitter when he became prime minister, and was president for part of 2012, Hijazi said. Medvedev's Russian account is more popular and he was ranked fifth with more than 2 million followers, the study said.
Dilma Rousseff (@dilmabr) of Brazil followed Medvedev with more than 1.7 million followers. Argentinian president Cristina Fernández (@CFKArgentina) is ranked 7th, with almost 1.5 million followers. The heads of state of Colombia (@JuanManSantos), Mexico (@EPN) and the United Arab Emirates (@HHShkMohd), made up the rest of the top 10.
While the number of states represented on Twitter rose, several countries stopped using the social network in 2012. Denmark and Ireland for instance let their accounts go inactive, the study said.
"One world leader who experienced a change of heart toward social media was the U.K. prime minister who, in October 2012, finally adopted a Twitter handle in his own name @David_Cameron," the study said. He is ranked 23rd with almost 190,000 followers.
The Middle East also saw a rise in heads of state that joined Twitter. In 2012, five out of the top 15 heads of state using Twitter were Muslim or came from Middle Eastern countries, the study said. "Arab Spring players such as Libya, Tunisia, and Iraq also had their heads of state adopt Twitter, and new government offices in this region included Qatar and the Presidential Palace of Afghanistan," the DPC said.