I am not a Twitterati. I’ve been on Twitter for just over a year, and I currently have a mere 570 followers. I don’t really know the rules and usually what I do know I don’t fully understand. I don’t keep my Twitter feed up all day (gasp!) and admittedly there are days that go by when I don’t even think about it.
So I’m definitely not Twitterati material. And that’s just fine.
But what is not fine was to see Foreign Policy’s 2012 Twitterrati list — what the magazine deems the best 100 global Tweeters — include only 15 females. Asking around to a few other female Tweeps, I learned that this isn’t new. Vanessa Parra (@parrav, 1,888 followers) told me it has happened before. So I checked other lists. Parra was right; the 2011 list included only ten women.
The paucity of women on these lists made me wonder what actually goes into selecting the annual Twitteratti. What are the criteria? How do you get noticed by the invisible list makers? Who are the invisible list makers?
A preliminary glance at this year’s group indicates that in order to be part of the list you need to have (generally) at least a thousand followers. Some Twitteratti have 3,000 followers, others have 16,000. If numbers are the main requirement, future lists might consider including Mona Eltahawy (@monaeltahawy), a public speaker on Arab and Muslim issues, who has over 100,000 followers; Heather Hurlburt (@natsecheather), Executive Director of the National Security Network, who has just under 1,000; Katharine Houreld (@khoureld), who covers Afghanistan and Pakistan for Reuters with 1,500 followers; or Semhar Araia (@Semhar), with 4,000 followers, is a hard-charging Horn of Africa expert and the founding director of DAWN.
It is worth noting that the Twitteratti list was also remarkably, although not exclusively, U.S. focused. What about including Valerie Amos (@ValerieAmos, +6,000 followers), U.N. Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator; or Ambassador Rao, (@NMenonRao, +36,000 followers); Foreign Secretary, India, 2009-2011. Indian Ambassador to the United States of America. They’d certainly bring up the numbers and deepen the foreign aspect of the policy.
I would bet, however, that the “list makers” are looking for a bit more than just numbers. I suspect they look for Tweeps who are timely, provide smart analysis (in 140 characters, of course), and share divergent information sources. Lots of foreign policy focused women use Twitter in exactly this way and they should have the chance to be recognized — and promoted -– just as are their male counterparts.
Although it’s only a list, it is moments like this that make the progress of women over the last few decades feel remarkably hollow. It’s a blunt reminder that despite all the advances women have seen, both legally and socially, the foreign policy arena is still very much, as James Brown would have said, a “man’s man’s man’s world.” Of course, there’s no shortage of reminders here in Washington. I should know. Before I came to the Center for American Progress I was a foreign policy advisor in the U.S. Senate, where more often than not I was the only female in a room full of blue-suited men. I had to remind myself not only to take a seat at the table but also make sure I had something good to say once I got there.
Truthfully, there’s no reason Foreign Policy Twitteratti list has to emulate Washington’s arcane practices –- the Twittersphere certainly doesn’t. Accordingly to Social Media Today, some 57 percent of Twitter users are female. Twitter itself acknowledged in 2011 that more than 60 percent of its accounts come from outside the United States, making it even more appropriate for any Twitteratti list to go beyond the traditional modus operandi in Washington. Thankfully, a supplementary list is now circulating with a number of valuable female additions. I was pleased to see Foreign Policy post a cleaned up version of the list as well.
We already know that the absence of women in influential policy roles here in D.C. means decision-making is less creative, less comprehensive, and less effective. Realistically, decades of a disproportionate imbalance can’t be overcome by reshaping a list, but making a strategic choice to ensure women, who are also enhancing and elevating the discussion, are also included, is essential. Such a decision will level the playing field while also exposing and amplifying many thoughtful women. A list of one hundred people is always going to have glaring omissions, but by being fair, honest, and transparent, Foreign Policy would better reflect the future of social media and help us jump over the hurdles of working in a male-dominated arena, at least 140 characters at a time.