The German government has taken a giant leap into the Twitterverse recently, but the press isn’t too happy about it. Disseminating official government business over Twitter before turning to traditional channels and telling the press about it has caused an outcry from the press and some serious defending on behalf of the government’s Twitter spokesperson.
There has always been some contention between adopters of “new media” like Twitter and those who staunchly adhere to traditional media, and this is one of the clearest examples of where the lines have been drawn.
The German chief spokesperson for press relations, Steffen Seibert, tweeted last week that the German Federal Chancellor, Angela Merkel, would be visiting the US. He did this without the usual pre-announcement to the parliamentary press corps. And now they’re mad.
Reactions were fast and fierce, as reporters took to Twitter and used traditional methods to voice their dissent. On March 25, a government spokesperson was forced to respond to the tweet during a press conference. Here is a small excerpt, translated by Tim Skellett:
QUESTION: Dr.Steegmans, do I have to in future have a Twitter account, in order to be informed of relevant appointments of the Federal Chancellor? I am basing this concretely on the announcement by the govt, spokesman that the Chancellor is travelling to the USA.
ANSWER BY DR.STEEGMANS: In information business, you know, a lot helps a lot.
I don’t believe that we have been so far churlish and that anyone who wants information from us will be surprised in the end we have favoured some channels. As professional clients of ours, we take for granted that you all are logged into Twitter. Let’s say that in reverse: we do not find it bad, when you are clients of ours.
QUESTION: Dr. Steegmans, am I to understand it correctly, that you promote, that we should become clients or subscribers of Twitter? You have conciously differentiated between offers of information and providing of information. Does that mean you hold this [Twitter] service in higher value? Only then would it be worth it to become a subscriber.
DR. STEEGMANS: No. There you have expressly misunderstood me, Mr.Liefert. I said: when you have the feeling, that possibly now and then something is broadcast that you did not know, that in your self-interest — that is, not following my own interests, but your own — that you should then use this extra information channel. The decision whether you do that or not lies entirely with you. I have expressly made it clear that you will not get any new information — I will not exclude the possibility, that perhaps an adjective gets used once, where it is not used elsewhere — that you could not get elsewhere.
The press corp seemed pretty irate in their questions, as they suggested on several occasions that Twitter was too insecure, technologically-advanced, public, or informal for their liking. It’s pretty clear that they don’t like the government interacting directly with the public, without letting them know about it first.
According to Technology Review, Siebert is still defending his decision to tweet the news on Twitter before alerting the press:
@blogdiscourse [I] had no idea that [our decision would make] such waves. My Twitter is not a circumvention of the journalists, but an outreach to other[s]