Published daily by the Lowy Institute

*SBY*, the tweeting president

*SBY*, the tweeting president
Published 22 Nov 2013 

The second round of the Australia-Indonesia spying stoush has now rolled on for a week, and attention is turning to the longer term implications for the relationship. As I've written elsewhere, I feel the row exposed Prime Minister Abbott's failure to take sufficient heed of Indonesia's domestic political context, and thus saw him miss an opportunity to defuse the row.

I agree with commentators who say all countries are realistic about the fact that spying happens, and that over time the relationship will return to more normal cooperation. This point holds even if Abbott does nothing, because of the underlying incentives to work together. At this point it's questionable to what extent an apology or apparent concession would speed up recovery.

I'm far from the first person to point these things out. One aspect of the row that bears further discussion, though, is Yudhoyono's choice of Twitter as his first venue to publicly express displeasure with Australia's response to the spying revelations.

Yudhoyono's choice to tweet is completely in character, and the social media platform appears to be his favourite communication tool. After joining in April this year, Yudhoyono has set about building his online personality. He uses Twitter to explain policies, set out his views on world affairs, provide self-help homilies to the Indonesian public, and share intimate family moments. To provide just three examples of the colour Yudhoyono brings to Twitter:

Some say a leader is someone to be sacrificed. I don't agree. My view is different. *SBY*

A leader must be ready to make sacrifices, not to be sacrificed. Hopefully a leader's sacrifices, whoever they are, bring good for this country. *SBY*


In my spare time, having fun with [granddaughter] Aira is happiness in itself. Have a good weekend. Greetings from NTT. *SBY*

His fondness for Twitter is clear in the proportion of tweets he authors himself. In the first twenty days of November, @SBYudhoyono issued 140 tweets to its more than 4 million followers, 71 of them personally signed by *SBY*. By comparison, @TonyAbbottMHR sent 14 tweets over the same period, with no indication as to which were personally authored.

The spying row is not the first time Yudhoyono has turned to Twitter in a moment of crisis or controversy. When the Free Papua Movement opened a campaign office in Oxford, Yudhoyono used Twitter in May to warn the UK Government that the office would damage bilateral relations. At the height of discussion of possible military strikes on Syria, Yudhoyono also sent a string of tweets outlining his preference for a peacekeeping force and detailing his advocacy efforts towards other world leaders.

Why has *SBY* taken to Twitter? Beyond his evident personal enjoyment of Twitter, the platform allows him to express his personality in a more genuine and human way. One of the reasons Indonesians cite for the popularity of current presidential frontrunner Joko Widodo is his easy-going man-of-the-people style compared to Yudhoyono's stiff reliance on protocol. Herein lies the real advantage of Twitter for Yudhoyono. For a leader who on more than one occasion has suffered the indignity of audience members falling asleep during his speeches, Twitter has allowed him to overcome his customary formality.

The next time Yudhoyono tweets about a diplomatic row it should come as no surprise. Tony Abbott might even do well to get his own tweets out there first in anticipation. Who knows, he might even gain a rare presidential retweet.

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