A series of rare exchanges occurred in the Twitterverse as Rosh Hashana, the Jewish holiday signifying the start of the new Jewish year, began Wednesday. Two top Iranian leaders purportedly tweeted messages to Jews for a blessed New Year. While it is unclear exactly who may be behind the Iranian leaders' Twitter feeds, the impact of these tweets underlines how powerfully the social media platform can impact global politics in 140 characters or less.
On the first night of the Jewish New Year, a Twitter account appearing to represent Iranian President Hasan Rouhani posted an unconventional Rosh Hashana greeting, along with an image of a man wearing a yarmulke-like cap and tallit prayer shawl.
The unprecedented tweet sent users reeling. To many, the message is a surprising departure from former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's harsh anti-Israel stance and Holocaust denial. Some consider his successor Rouhani a relative moderate.
But it is unclear whether the tweet really came from Rouhani. The account appears to be legitimate, and has around 30,000 followers. It has not been validated, however. "President Hassan Rouhani has no tweeter account," adviser Mohammed Reza Sadeq said in an alleged statement, explaining that "proponents and fans of Rouhani were active in the cyberspace during the recent presidential election in Iran" and may be behind the account.
But Robin Wright, renowned author and scholar who specializes in Iran and the Middle East, insists that she has confirmation from Iranian sources that the president was behind the Tweet, according to the Washington Post and Wright's Twitter page.
To make matters more interesting, Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs Javad Zarif tweeted a Rosh Hashana greeting the following day. This provoked a response on the site from Christine Pelosi, activist and daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Whatever may come to light regarding the legitimacy of these tweets, their jarring impact is yet another sign that Twitter is becoming more and more of a medium through which world leaders send messages and affect global politics. It's a phenomenon some have termed "Twiplomacy," where Twitter teams behind politicians help monitor and produce important messaging on the platform so that world leaders can not only reach constituents, but also interact with international audiences.
If Iran's leaders are not behind the accounts, whoever is behind them has still been able to affect the diplomatic climate by sending international actors in a flurry. Closing off any illegitimate accounts would be a necessary measure for Iranian politicians to secure their diplomatic approach.
In the chance the tweets are a legitimate indication of an Iranian urge to soften relations with its own Jews as well as those in Israel through public, international social outreach, they would indeed be significant. Approximately 25,000 Jews live in Iran, which is the largest Jewish population in the Middle East outside of Israel.
"This is the most effective public diplomacy campaign Iran has ever undertaken, in 34 years," said Wright. "Given that it is in English, the new crowd is trying to reverse the damage done during the eight years of President Ahmadinejad."
"This is the new Tweet-for-Peace campaign," she added.
Unfortunately there does not appear to be sufficient proof to validate Wright's optimism. But the mysterious tweets do present a notable indication that the social media platform has more and more power to impact global politics, and suggests the Iranian leaders' purported Twitter feeds will be worth monitoring.