Why The CIA Needs to Tread Carefully on Twitter

Verified government accounts often act as conversation leaders, but the CIA's social media presence is going to get a lot of flack.



On June 6th, the verified Twitter account @CIA went live. Their first tweet was the tongue-in-cheek “We can neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.” And while plenty of Twitter users had their usual fun by making jokes, it’s not really a laughing matter. Verified government accounts often act as conversation leaders, but when it comes to the CIA, its smiley-faced social media presence is going to get a lot of flack.

The CIA is an organization that doesn’t exactly have a squeaky clean background. As pointed out by BuzzFeed in a mocking brand management guide for the CIA, there are torture allegations, and Edward Snowden’s leaks have been problematic for all national security agencies. When users are given the opportunity to speak truth to power, the conversation doesn’t always unfold the way the originators think it should. Just #AskJPMorgan.

And when those sparking the conversation are politicians and government agencies, there is the possibility for even more vitriol. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron gets an earful every time he posts anything on Twitter. Most social media profiles for the powerful are run by teams, and the CIA Twitter account will likely be no different. Still, it’s unlikely that the criticisms will reach the very top.  But there’s another reason this isn’t funny.

Writes Motherboard contributor Jordan Pearson:

[The first Tweet] rubs everyone’s noses in the organization’s long history of evading journalists, Congress and virtually anyone else interested in uncovering the agency’s goings on. Whoever was behind the tweet expected the Internet to eat it up — an assumption implicit in the act of sending it in the first place. It’s extremely unsettling that the continual evasion of the public’s prying eyes constitutes a knowing wink between the CIA and the public itself.

The CIA is attempting to pass into the public sphere, or at least appear to, in an attempt to lead the conversation about what the agency does. In the official release about the new social accounts, the agency will share ‘unclassified information’ as well as job offerings, news about the agency’s mission and information about its history.

Since the account began, there have only been two tweets and one retweet, so the true nature of the @CIA content is yet to be determined. Regardless of what the account posts, it is going to be very difficult for the CIA to control their message.

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