Minutes after Iran launched a barrage of ballistic missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq earlier this month, its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, came out with a tweet, saying that his country did not seek to escalate with the United States.
And minutes after Zarif’s comment, U.S. President Donald Trump posted a tweet, reassuring the American people that Iran’s attack caused no casualties among U.S. military personnel.
The Iranian missile attack was in retaliation for the killing of top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani, who died in a recent U.S. airstrike in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
Tweets and private messages
And while the world was awaiting a major confrontation between the two longtime foes, those Twitter messages from both sides helped mitigate the tensions and allowed back-channel diplomacy to take its course, experts argue.
"The relatively synchronous transmission of tweets, albeit of limited content, allowed both parties to publicly counteract the more strident messages coming via official news agencies and press releases,” said Randall Rogan, professor of communication at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
Such indirect communication on Twitter “effectively allowed both sides to present seemingly contradictory messaging that buffered their respective needs to defend and save face while back-channel messaging was occurring via diplomatic emissaries conveying more fulsome content and sentiment on behalf of both countries,” he told VOA.
Multiple reports said that amid heightening tensions between Washington and Tehran, the Swiss embassy in Tehran, which represents the U.S. interests in the country, was busy conveying messages between both countries.
Experts said the Swiss back-channel, coupled with tweets from U.S. and Iranian officials, was a significant factor in ensuring de-escalation following Iran’s attacks on U.S. military bases in Iraq.
"The private message and the public tweets sent the same thing; they were mutually reinforcing,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank.
He told VOA that, “We’re living in an era of greater connectivity where every message matters, but also receptivity of every message matters,” adding that recent tweets used by President Trump, for example, “were meant to be read and interpreted by American allies and adversaries alike, domestic and international audiences alike.”
Rogan of Wake Forest University agreed.
"Tweets also allowed both sides to effectively measure public sentiment for their posted messaging by tracking reactions to the posts in real-time. And, this medium also enabled the public to weigh in on the issue in support of one side or the other, or both, and thereby further served the needs of both countries,” he said.
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