The social network platform Twitter broke the one billion tweets barrier as it celebrated its fifth anniversary in March of this year. Since October of 2010, the European Council and its President Herman Van Rompuy have contributed to this record result.

Twitter gives politicians a chance to better connect with their voters. Political institutions have also recognized the value of the social network. But while the EU has become enamored with Twitter use by officials, it has also been bitten by controversy when insults of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi made their way onto a “tweetwall” at a meeting of the European Council.

The Council of the European Union and the European Council each opened a Twitter account in October of 2010. The European Council was the first to post a tweet on October 26 through President Herman Van Rompuy’s personal channel euHvR</a>. The Council of the European Union followed shortly after, posting its first tweet on October 27 (<a href="http://twitter.com/#!/EUCouncilPress" title="EUCouncilPress”>@EUCouncilPress).

The first challenge for the Press office was to cover the first European Council — which gathers the 27 EU head of states and hundred of journalists in the same building during two days, October 28 and 29. During this first summit, a total of 65 tweets were posted by the official EU team.

Atrium

Atrium, EU Council

Breaking official news on Twitter

The initiative was particularly interesting for journalists because the first tweets focused mostly on the upcoming EU summit, announcing agenda items and other important information under the official hashtag #Euco.

By following the hashtag #Euco, journalists and citizens around the world could not only see what was happening in relation to the summit but also what was happening during the summit. Van Rompuy took it a step further when he started tweeting updates on the results of private negotiations among heads of states.

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In December Van Rompuy announced limited changes on the treaty of Lisbon and just recently, he used Twitter to reveal which non-Euro country will be participating in the Euro Plus Pact.

The Tweetwall experience

When the EU Council press office created its Twitter account in October of 2010, it also opened an online Tweetwall service in the Atrium during the summit. The Tweetwall was a large screen set up in the press room where hundred of journalists were able to see all the tweets bearing the hashtag #Euco.

This type of live coverage can be useful to journalists especially when it comes to finding out about rumors or learning official breaking news through Herman Van Rompuy’s announcements.

However, a debate took place regarding the moderation of the tweets, because all the messages that appeared on the screen were checked beforehandby the press office. The fact that the experience only lasted for 45 minutes was also discussed. Why such a short period?

Berlusconi insults

The Tweetwall was used once again during the following EU summit in December. This time, however, the tweets were not moderated. Blogger Jon Worth decided to get the hashtag #Euco trending on Twitter. Italians understood the message and started posting tweets about the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi: “Berlusconi pays for sex, for votes, for mafia protection, for everything he can buy. What he cannot buy, will be stolen.” Or, quoting Berlusconi himself: “Mussolini never killed anyone. Mussolini used to send people on vacation in internal exile.”

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The Tweetwall was switched off prematurely after two hours instead of three as planned. Dana Manescu, from the Council press team, told EUobserver: “The point was not to show insulting messages about Berlusconi. If anyone from the Italian delegation saw it, it would hurt their sensibility.”

Even though Manescu assured that the press team “will definitely do this again,” the experience has not been renewed so far.

Here’s a video showing the intermittent use of the Tweetwall at the December summit:

The European Council on Energy and Innovation on February 4 tried to organize a special debate on the Tweetwall but it did not last long.

A changing strategy

Despite the initial idea to expand the use of social media during the European Council itself, the strategy changed in December after the Berlusconi attacks on the Tweetwall. Nicolas Kerleroux, head of the Council’s press office, now says: “We want to renew the experience. But it does not mean that we will use it [the Tweetwall] each time.”

“We want to use the video walls in the Atrium in a dynamic way. Apart from live coverage (arrivals, roundtable, etc.), we will try to show films or special animations, and if need be, the Tweetwall,” he clarifies.

The use of the expression “if need be” reveals that unfortunately, a tool such as the Tweetwall is no longer a priority during sessions of the European Council.

Maxence Peniguet graduated in Law and Political Sciences in Montpellier, France, and entered the world of journalism through internships at the Midi Libre. In 2009-2010, he contributed to the international pages of a student newspaper on the island of Tromsø, Norway. After completing the brand new Executive Master in European Journalism in Brussels, he started working as a freelance journalist. Peniguet is currently the French editor for the Brussels city blog at Cafe Babel.

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This story was originally published by the European Journalism Centre, an independent non-profit institute dedicated to the highest standards in journalism, primarily through the further training of journalists and media professionals. Follow @ejcnet for Twitter updates, join us on Facebook and on the EJC Online Journalism Community.

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