This article first appeared on DhivehiSitee. Republished with permission.
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, when asked for his views about politicians on Twitter, famously replied: ‘Too many tweets might make a twat.” Cameron was discussing the instantaneousness of modern communication, and the perils of politicians tweeting without thinking.
It should be said that neither side of the divided Maldivian political landscape are too keen to listen to Cameron right now. The authoritarians have a bone to pick with him for declaring President Nasheed his ‘new best friend’ and ‘ideal stag party-companion’ not long before the coup; and Nasheed’s supporters aren’t happy with him for abandoning his new best friend at the first sign of trouble. But, on lessons about tweeting, Cameron’s advice is spot on for Maldivian politicians.
Twitter is as popular in the Maldives as it is in all other countries going through political turmoil. Ordinary Maldivian Twitterians and Tweeps have the same behavioural patterns as those of their foreign counterparts. Both supporters of the government and opposing democrats are on Twitter everyday, expressing their divergent opinions, heckling the opposition, drumming up support for and covering protests, having fun, and of course, trolling.
The behaviour of Maldivian politicians and other leaders on Twitter, however, is an entirely different matter. Their Twitter life is remarkably different from tweeting politicians in other countries. Like the sheer amount of time they seem to have to devote to Twitter for one thing. Whereas other leaders such as American President Obama or say Dr Manmohan Singh, the Indian PM, all have their staff tweet for them, President Waheed likes to do it himself.
To be fair, Dr Waheed has only tweeted just over a hundred times but, clearly, he does it himself, and also thinks it is about himself as a person rather than about his presidency. He likes to post pictures with supporters (an inordinate number of them appear to be children), and at times provide some intimate insights into his life such as how he enjoys taking the time to smell flowers on weekends.
Then there’s the large number of fake accounts that have sprung up pretending to be some politician or another. By fake accounts I don’t mean those that are obviously parodies. The new president Dr Waheed and his wife Ilham Hussein both have good ones. Witty and insightful, they satirise the couple well:
From inside Presidents office with other senior officials, watching live coverage of security forces attacking the enemy base at usfasgandu.
— Mohamed Waheed (@DrWaheeedH) May 29, 2012
President Waheed became the butt of many jokes when his first Tweet as president was one about having his account verified as authentic by Twitter. It was a similar story with newly appointed Attorney General Azima Shukoor. Her first order of business after assuming office was to send out a press release – on official letterhead of the Attorney General’s Office – to confirm which of two Twitter accounts in her name was the authentic one. Don’t know why she bothered. She doesn’t have much to say anyway. Perhaps Twitterians shouldn’t have laughed at their antics so hard. Differentiating between fake accounts and real ones has become important, given the content of some Tweets. One of the most dubious ones is that of the President’s Spokesperson Abbas Riza. He has said on television that the account is his, but I still inadvertently do a double-take at some of the Tweets he sends out. He never refers to MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) – to which President Nasheed belongs – as MDP. He prefers to call it ‘NDP Terror Wing’. Presumably the N stands for Nasheed. Any protest that MDP organises, the President’s Spokesperson refers to as activities of ‘NDP Terror Wing’. What’s worse are his personal attacks on Nasheed. His most offensive Tweet of late has been:
‘Run’di Kaalhu’ is an insult in Dhivehi. Loosely translated, it means ‘whoring crow’. That’s the name the President’s spokesperson has decided to refer to the protest camp MDP had on the South eastern corner of Male’. I don’t think the rest of the tweet needs any explanation. These types of tweets on a regular basis, from a person in such a job, would be regarded as highly offensive, and often defamatory, in any other country which claims to be a democracy. In the Maldives, however, they go un-remarked upon by the mainstream media or anyone else. The only people who seem to care are the Twitter community. Pro-government Tweeps find it hilarious, the other side is outraged. But they remain on record, and the President’s Spokesperson keeps on tweeting. The Commissioner of Police, Abdulla Riyaz, has an account which nobody doubts is his, and is quite possibly the most frequently updated timeline of all leaders appointed to high ranks after February 7. He is convinced that his role in 7 February events [he was one of the three civilians who ‘negotiated’ President Nasheed’s resignation inside the military headquarters] was heroic, and has boasted on Twitter that he has nothing to apologise for as he’s ‘proud of what he did’. Here’s a typical example:
@Luhanio That day Police publicly said NO to unlawful orders. Enough is enough. Ensure us no unlawful orders echoed by Police officers.
— Abdulla Riyaz (@riyazabdulla) June 13, 2012
And it’s not uncommon for him to come out with an absolute shocker, something that a police commissioner wouldn’t say even in your wildest dreams. Like this one:
The prostitutes do a lot of harm to the society? — Abdulla Riyaz (@riyazabdulla) June 9, 2012
Another account that caused consternation among the Twitter community is that purported to be of Masood Imad, Dr Waheed’s Media Secretary. Masood’s timeline is less shocking than that of the President’s Spokesperson, but it seems to have got the President’s goat more than any others.
Dhivehi Sitee has come upon some evidence to show that the President has tried hard to stop the ‘Masood Imad’ account. Not because it’s insulting, but because it was deemed to be providing ‘somewhat accurate projections of the administration.’
Here is a screen shot of the President’s son – it is not known in what capacity he is acting – trying to get the owner of the account to hand it over to the Real Masood Imad.
I guess this means that although the Masood Imad account is fake, it is one that we should follow if we want to have some ‘somewhat accurate projections of the administration’.
Azra Naseem holds a doctorate in International Relations.
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