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Rescuers Save Some Stranded Whales in New Zealand; New Pod Runs Aground

A new pod of 240 whales swam aground at a remote New Zealand beach Saturday just hours after weary volunteers managed to refloat a different group of whales from an earlier mass stranding.

 

In total, more than 650 pilot whales have beached themselves along a 5 kilometer (3 mile) stretch of coastline over two days on Farewell Spit at the tip of the South Island. About 335 of the whales are dead, 220 remain stranded, and 100 are back at sea.

 

Department of Conservation Golden Bay Operations Manager Andrew Lamason said they are sure they’re dealing with a new pod because they had tagged all the refloated whales from the first group and none of the new group had tags.

 

The news was devastating for hundreds of volunteers who had come from around the country to help with the initial group of 416 stranded whales that was found early Friday, many of them already dead. 

Volunteers not giving up

Volunteers are planning to return Sunday to help refloat as many healthy whales as they can.

 

Lamason said about 20 of the new group were euthanized by conservation workers because they were in poor condition and more would likely need to be killed Sunday.

 

Rescuers had been hopeful earlier Saturday after efforts to refloat the initial group of whales had gone well, following a frustrating day Friday.

Lamason said improved weather and crystal clear water helped with the latest rescue attempt. He said all the surviving whales were refloated, and about 100 volunteers formed a human chain in the water to prevent them from beaching again.

 

He said volunteers were warned about the possibility of stingrays and sharks, after one of the dead whales appeared to have bite marks consistent with a shark. He said there had been no shark sightings.

Carcass disposal 

With the rescue effort now paused, officials are beginning to turn their attention to the grim task of disposing of hundreds of carcasses.

 

Lamason said one option was to tether the carcasses to stakes or a boat in the shallow tidal waters and let them decompose. The problem with towing them out to sea or leaving them was that they could become gaseous and buoyant, and end up causing problems by floating into populated bays.

 

Farewell Spit, a sliver of sand that arches like a hook into the Tasman Sea, has been the site of previous mass strandings. Sometimes described as a whale trap, the spit’s long coastline and gently sloping beaches seem to make it difficult for whales to navigate away from once they get close.

 

There are different theories as to why whales strand themselves, from chasing prey too far inshore to trying to protect a sick member of the group or escaping a predator.

 

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of whale strandings in the world, and Friday’s event is the nation’s third-biggest in recorded history. The largest was in 1918, when about 1,000 pilot whales came ashore on the Chatham Islands. In 1985, about 450 whales stranded in Auckland.

 

Pilot whales grow to about 7.5 meters (25 feet) and are common around New Zealand’s waters. 

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Students Share Stage With World-Class Musicians at ‘Grammy Camp’

Every year, dozens of talented American students are selected to join the Grammy Camp in Los Angeles, where the annual Grammy Awards are presented each year. For a week, the Grammy campers hone their musical skills and perform alongside famous professional musicians, including Indonesian jazz piano prodigy Joey Alexander. The 13-year-old is one of this year’s Grammy Awards contenders. VinaMubtadi reports.

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Cambodians Face Deportations to Homeland They’ve Never Known

In late November, Lim Morn traveled to Washington, her first trip outside Minnesota since resettling there as a Cambodian immigrant in 1986.

She made the trek to plead for the release of her son, Chheng Soeun, after he was detained in August by agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Chheng was marked for deportation because of a criminal record.

“I asked that they keep my son in the country because … we have no relatives in Cambodia,” Lim, a single mother of four, told VOA Khmer.

Chheng is one of eight Cambodian men who face deportation at any time after Cambodia issues the appropriate travel documents. Shawn Neudauer, the public affairs officer in Minnesota for the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, told VOA by email that ICE does not have any leeway in the cases.

“The eight Cambodian men in Minnesota, currently in ICE custody while awaiting removal to their birth country, all have serious criminal conviction records, and each has a Final Order of Removal issued by the immigration courts,” he said. “ICE must carry out these court orders in as timely a manner as possible. ICE does not have the discretion to ignore the court orders.”

However, Chheng’s lawyer suspects authorities have become more aggressive since President Donald Trump took office on a platform that called for much tougher treatment of refugees and immigrants with criminal records.

“The change in administration has signaled a willingness to deport people with criminal records and not exercise any discretion at all,” said Danielle Robinson Briand, who represents Chheng and the others.

Last week, Gen. Khieu Sopheak, the spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of the Interior, said the government had agreed to receive 36 Cambodians from the U.S. It is not known if the eight men from Minnesota are covered by the agreement.

Child refugees

The Cambodian-American men, known collectively by supporters as the “Minnesota 8,” all arrived in the United States as child refugees. Each man had been convicted of a crime and served his sentence before being detained by ICE.

Their repatriation is covered by the 2002 U.S.-Cambodian Joint Commission on Repatriation (JCR). The commission is an outgrowth of the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, federal legislation that expanded deportation criteria.

Although the U.S. law was passed in 1996, Washington had to negotiate deportation agreements with individual nations; Cambodia signed in 2002.

In Washington, Lin attended an informal meeting hosted by the Cambodian Embassy about the JCR. Comprising four Americans and four Cambodians who review individual deportation cases, the JCR was established as part of the 2002 agreement. JCR officials typically do not meet with family members.

The Minnesota 8 cases have sparked protests since the detentions. An open letter to the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, signed by three members of Congress, condemned the use of the 1996 law to justify the Minnesota roundup.

Each of the eight men is the breadwinner for his family. None has immediate family in Cambodia. They barely speak Khmer, the primary language of Cambodia.

Chheng, convicted of a gang-related attempted murder in 1995 when he was 14, served 17 years in state prison. Since his early release for good behavior in 2012, he has worked as a barber and avoided further criminal activities, Briand said.

A counterterrorism measure

But under the 1996 legislation, permanent U.S. residents who aren’t naturalized citizens and who have been convicted of crimes on U.S. soil, including some misdemeanors, can be detained without appeal, even if they have served their sentences in full. At the signing ceremony, then-President Bill Clinton said the legislation “strikes a mighty blow” against terrorism.

Critics say the law is based on what they call intentionally vague definitions of “moral turpitude” and a broadened index of crimes that can get permanent residents deported.

“The aggravated felony [clause, according to the 1996 provisions,] really does have a too-harsh effect,” said Hiroshi Motomura, a University of California-Los Angeles School of Law professor who is an immigration and citizenship expert. “Not only does it expand the scope of deportation, but it also limits the ability of immigration judges to allow people to stay in the United States based on their individual circumstances.”

Broadened in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the law’s counterterror and immigration provisions have resulted in more than 500 deportations to Cambodia since 2002, according to the Returnee Integration Support Center in Cambodia.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, represents the district in which Chheng’s family lives, and has said the law needs “more flexibility in it. It needs to include mitigating circumstances.”

Such circumstances could include whether a person slated for deportation had ever been to the country to which he was being sent, Ellison said.

Damaged families

Born in Thailand’s Khao-I-Dang refugee camp in 1981, Chheng is one of many Cambodians who have never lived in their country of origin. Displaced by the Khmer Rouge genocide, which emerged from the political upheaval triggered in part by U.S. bombing campaigns of the Vietnam-war era, his family was granted U.S. refuge when he was a preschooler.

As VOA has previously reported, many Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge regime suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. This has complicated their integration into American life.

“War and genocide had caused so much damage to the families,” Chum Bun Rong, Cambodia’s ambassador to the United States, told VOA. “They continued to struggle on [U.S.] soil, and dealing with trauma might cause people to commit crimes.”

In late October, Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked U.S. Embassy officials in Phnom Penh to temporarily suspend the 2002 repatriation agreement in an attempt to amend it.

David Josar, the U.S. Embassy’s deputy spokesman, explained the U.S. response in an email to VOA’s Khmer service: “We continue to work with the Government of Cambodia on repatriations of its citizens,” he wrote. “We believe Cambodia should issue travel documents to its citizens and accept the return of those subject to final orders of removal.”

The Cambodia Daily newspaper has quoted Chum Sounry, spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, saying his country has created “a working group” on the agreement with a U.S. counterpart. Sopheak of the Interior Ministry told VOA a draft proposal will be presented to the U.S. once it is completed.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at rights group Licadho in Phnom Penh, said this week that Cambodians who have never lived in their homeland and who are deported from the U.S. will find it hard to adapt to their new surroundings and will require support.

“This is very necessary,” he said. “This is what the governments have to discuss and the U.S. is a country that implements democracy. Thus, they must understand rights and freedom of the people.”

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Analysts Detail Changes Needed to Resolve Myanmar’s Rohingya Situation

A recent report issued by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights chronicles killings, gang rapes, beatings, disappearances, and other crimes and acts of cruelty against ethnic Rohingya Muslims at the hands of Myanmar’s security forces.

 

Malaysian Prime Minister Rajib Nazak said, “Enough is enough,” and sent an aid flotilla to assist the Rohingya community, but the vessel was met by protests.

 

Pope Francis said, “They have been suffering for years, they have been tortured, killed simply because they wanted to live their culture and their Muslim faith.”

 

What, however, will it take to resolve the abuses outlined in the report?

 

Five analysts shared their opinions with VOA.

 

Jonah Blank, senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation

 

“At the most basic level, the governments of both Myanmar and Bangladesh must grant access to international relief workers and journalists – by Myanmar to the Rohingya population in Rakhine State, and by Bangladesh to the refugees being housed in barely-inhabitable camps. At a deeper level, however, the greatest burden rests with Myanmar: to end the abuses documented by the U.N. and other observers; the government in Yangon must uphold the basic human rights and civil rights of its Rohingya citizens.”

 

Hunter Marston, Myanmar analyst

 

“First of all, it would take the establishment of genuine law and order on the ground in Rakhine State, where the abuses are taking place. Thus far, the Myanmar police force, which is loyal to the military by way of the Ministry of Home Affairs, has been unable to play the role of neutral arbiter. There have been frequent allegations of police non-intervention or active collusion in violence enacted upon the Rohingya. So it will take an active restructuring of the MPF (Myanmar Police Force) to find an effective solution, in addition to further training in peacekeeping, empathy, and religious tolerance, among other areas. Beyond that, the Myanmar government must allow more access to humanitarian aid groups and the media. Only the free flow of information, unhampered by security forces and the NLD (National League for Democracy party) government, can accurately report the facts on the ground, which will lead to effective policy making.”

 

 

Greg Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative

 

“Bottom line, there is no way the situation of the Rohingya improves unless the political leadership in Myanmar, meaning especially Aung San Suu Kyi, chooses to really grapple with the issue, roll back state-sanctioned discriminatory policies and pressure the military to change its approach. The Rohingya have been systematically disenfranchised and demonized by successive governments since the 1960’s. Now even liberal members of society, including many senior officials within the NLD government, see them as not only not citizens, but undeserving of any basic human rights. Perhaps Aung San Suu Kyi doesn’t agree with that sentiment, but she has also been unwilling to say a word in defense of the Rohingya. In effect, they are being sacrificed so she and her government can focus on the lot of ethnic Burmans and more powerful and more widely accepted ethnic minorities. As long as that’s the case, things cannot improve.”

 

Evan Rees, Stratfor Southeast Asia analyst

 

“The Rohingya problem is rooted in deep ethnic and religious issues. The Rohingya want recognition as an official ethnic minority and as citizens of Myanmar. Their ethnic neighbors – the Buddhist Rakhine – see this as a threat to their own status. At the same time, influential Buddhist populists with heavy influence in the rest of the country – and within the military – present Islam as a threat to the nation. That means that local ethnic minorities, Buddhist political activists and the military are all aligned against the Rohingya. The military’s solution to this issue is to crack down as it has done in other ethnic borderlands like Karen and Kachin State. Aung San Suu Kyi has been silent because she herself has little control over the military and risks popular backlash from Buddhist populists. Any resolution to the abuses in the Rohingya areas will require a resolution of Myanmar’s longstanding civilian-military divide and a political will to compromise on wide ethnic and religious divisions. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party is still on the razor’s edge and, from this precarious position, has little chance of resolving these issues.”

 

Phil Robertson, Asia division deputy director of Human Rights Watch

 

“The grievous rights abuses uncovered by OHCHR can only be adequately responded to by an independent, international investigation commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council when it meets next month. The Burma government had its chance and has only shown interest in whitewashing its security forces’ use of rape, extrajudicial executions, and arson to destroy entire Rohingya communities.”

 

Regional responses

 

In a closed door meeting of officials and international agencies in Dhaka, Bangladesh this week, the group said Myanmar’s government remains “in denial” about alleged atrocities carried out by its military against minority Rohingya Muslims. The U.N. high commissioner for human rights said Myanmar leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi was moved by its report; however, she doesn’t have constitutional control of the security forces.

 

On Thursday, however, Myanmar’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said authorities will conduct an investigation into alleged atrocities in the Rakhine State. The ministry’s director-general, Aye Aye Soe, told Radio Free Asia, “We’ll have to find out how truthful the allegations are.”

 

While visiting Singapore, Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi said, “I would like to once again reiterate the importance for the government of Myanmar to take significant steps to create an enabling environment for peace and reconciliation to take place,” warning the crackdown could create instability in Southeast Asia.

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Quake Measuring 6.7 Hits Philippines

An earthquake measuring 6.7 struck near the island of Mindanao in the Philippines on Friday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The quake occurred at a depth of 10 km about 13 km east of the city of Surigao, the USGS said. There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on its website there was no tsunami threat from the earthquake.

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US, China military planes come inadvertently close over South China Sea

A U.S. Navy P-3 plane and a Chinese military aircraft came close to each other over the South China Sea in an incident the Navy believes was inadvertent, a U.S. official told Reuters on Thursday.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the aircraft came within 1,000 feet (305 meters) of each other on Wednesday in the vicinity of the Scarborough Shoal, between the Philippines and the Chinese mainland.

The official added that such incidents involving Chinese and American aircraft are infrequent, with only two having taken place in 2016.

The U.S. aircraft was “on a routine mission operating in accordance with international law,” U.S. Pacific Command told Reuters in a statement.

“On Feb. 8, an interaction characterized by U.S. Pacific Command as ‘unsafe’ occurred in international air space above the South China Sea, between a Chinese KJ-200 aircraft and a U.S. Navy P-3C aircraft,” it said.

The KJ-200 is a propeller airborne early warning and control aircraft based originally on the old Soviet-designed An-12.

“The Department of Defense and U.S. Pacific Command are always concerned about unsafe interactions with Chinese military forces,” Pacific Command added. “We will address the issue in appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”

In Beijing, China’s defense ministry told state media the Chinese pilot responded with “legal and professional measures.”

“We hope the U.S. side keeps in mind the present condition of relations between the two countries and militaries, adopts practical measures, and eliminates the origin of air and sea mishaps between the two countries,” the Global Times cited an unnamed defense ministry official as saying.

Past controversies

Separately, China’s Defense Ministry said in a statement Friday that three ships had left port for drills taking in the South China Sea, eastern Indian Ocean and Western Pacific.

China’s blockade of Scarborough Shoal, a prime fishing spot, prompted the previous Philippine government to file a legal case in 2013 at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, infuriating Beijing, which refused to take part.

While the court last year largely rejected China’s claims, new Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has sought to mend ties with Beijing and the situation around the shoal has largely calmed down.

China is deeply suspicious of any U.S. military activity in the resource-rich South China Sea.

In December, a Chinese naval vessel picked up a U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea near the Philippines, triggering a U.S. diplomatic protest. China later returned it.

The United States has previously criticized what it called China’s militarization of its maritime outposts in the South China Sea, and stressed the need for freedom of navigation with periodic air and naval patrols nearby, angering Beijing.

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11 Civilians Killed in Fighting in Southern Afghanistan

At least 11 members of a family were killed in Afghanistan’s southern province of Helmand when a bomb struck their house during clashes between U.S.-supported government forces and Taliban insurgents, local officials and relatives said Friday.

The incident occurred in the conflict-hit district of Sangin, but it was not immediately clear which side was responsible.

A Taliban spokesman blamed overnight American military airstrikes and said at least 23 civilians were killed.  

U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Charles Cleveland confirmed it had carried out airstrikes in Sangin since Thursday.

“We are aware of the allegations of the civilian casualties and take every allegation very seriously. We will work with our Afghan partners to review all related material,” he said. Cleveland denied insurgent claims that B-52 aircraft were involved in the strikes.

The Taliban launched a major coordinated offensive on Sangin nearly two weeks ago, overrunning a number of outposts and killing dozens of Afghan forces.

Helmand key for Taliban

The U.S. military has since carried out repeated airstrikes against Taliban positions in support of government troops, but insurgents continue to occupy areas around the district center and launch counterattacks despite official claims of evicting them.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, acknowledged on Thursday that intense fighting continues to rage in the area.

“Sadly, there has been some recent fighting in Sangin and we had another American Special Forces’ solider severely wounded in Sangin this morning,” Nicholson told a congressional hearing.

More than 80 percent of Helmand, a major poppy-producing province, is estimated to be controlled by the Taliban and supplies the insurgent group with approximately 60 percent of their funding.

General Nicholson said he hopes a planned deployment of about 300 U.S. Marines this spring will play a key role in helping government forces reverse insurgent gains in Helmand, the largest of all 34 Afghan provinces.

Civilians have borne the brunt of recent intensified and expanded fighting in Afghanistan.

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Immediacy Twitter Provides Overrated, Some Experts Say

Donald Trump was an avid Twitter user during his campaign for the U.S. presidency, and in his nearly three weeks in office, he hasn’t stopped. While most of Trump’s 24.4 million followers like the immediacy the commander in chief’s tweets provide, others are more critical.

“I don’t think there’s any connection between immediacy and sincerity. I think immediacy is overrated. It may be times when it’s absolutely necessary, but most of what President Trump tweets should be delayed and should be given more thought,” Theodore Glasser, professor of communication at Stanford University, told VOA.

“Do I love the different tweets that Trump has been putting out … absolutely not,” said Scott Goodstein, founder and chief executive officer of Revolution Messaging, a digital communications strategy company.

But as someone who’s spent the past decade pioneering digital strategy and technology for political campaigns, Goodstein said, “I love that in America I get the ability to organize and do rapid response on platforms like Twitter … the ability for the American citizenry to ask questions, engage and be part of that conversation they weren’t part of prior to Twitter, and social media has, to me, made our country better.”

Trump explained his use of Twitter as “a way of bypassing [the] dishonest media.” He has labeled the media the “opposition party” and says he calls “his own shots largely based on an accumulation of data.”

In January, he tweeted 206 times and had about 25 million interactions — consisting of retweets, replies and likes — more than any other world leader, according to data pulled from CrowdTangle, which tracks how links are shared on social media platforms.

But he is not the first U.S. president who has tried to use the popular medium of the moment to bypass mainstream media.

Radio, TV

Franklin D. Roosevelt used “fireside chats” on radio “to talk directly to the country, and that was done periodically and it was very effective,” Glasser said. Roosevelt led the nation through the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, and some say that by using his radio broadcasts, he was able to quell rumors and directly explain his policies.

President John F. Kennedy is considered to be one who mastered the television medium, while President Richard Nixon “went out of his way to avoid the press and didn’t have a good relationship with them,” Glasser said.

Barack Obama was the first American presidential candidate to organize on major platforms like Facebook and YouTube, along with more niche platforms like Black Planet, Asian Avenue and others, said Goodstein, who was in charge of that during Obama’s 2007 election campaign. The Obama White House used digital technology to its fullest later to disseminate information. Right now, @BarackObama has 84.4 million followers, third highest on a list kept by twitaholic.com.

The social media platform, created a little over a decade ago, had 317 million monthly active users as of the third quarter of 2016, according to statistics portal statista.com.

Brazil

In Brazil, ousted President Dilma Rousseff, who has 5.7 million followers, was a great example of someone “who used the tool [Twitter] during the election and then turned it off essentially and stopped listening when they started governing; that was a huge mistake,” said Goodstein, who also worked in that country.

He said Rousseff had the ability to build a giant Twitter following during her first election, and he criticized her for “not engaging in her base voters and her general electorate … around issues of people protesting building around the Olympics when it was first announced. She had the ability to go over the media, talk directly to her citizenry. Unfortunately, she did not, and you saw these protests grow bigger and bigger.”

Rousseff has vowed to appeal what she called a “parliamentary coup,” and some of her supporters continue to call her Brazil’s only legitimate president, as shown in a recent picture posted on her Twitter page.

Mexico

The feud between Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Trump continued when the U.S. president reaffirmed his campaign promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico, and that if Mexico wasn’t going to pay for the wall, Pena Nieto should cancel a scheduled visit in Washington a week after Trump was inaugurated.

In Mexico, after congratulating Trump and tweeting that his country would work with the U.S. to strengthen their relationship, Pena Nieto took to the same medium to inform his 6.21 million followers, and the White House shortly afterward, that he would not attend the meeting with Trump.

Gambia

While some leaders have been using the medium for years and have followings in the millions, others are just starting. Newly elected Gambian President Adama Barrow announced to his 11,000 followers that he was back after going into exile in neighboring Senegal, fearing his life was in danger. Barrow defeated President Yahya Jammeh in December’s elections, but the veteran leader of 22 years did not want to cede power.

Since joining Twitter in December, Barrow has sent 62 tweets, mostly about the postelection crisis, his return home and cabinet announcements.

Rwanda

Since June 2016, Rwandan President Paul Kagame has tweeted only 23 times, including one retweet to his 1.59 million followers. Mostly in English and sometimes in Kinyarwanda, the posts varied but included a congratulatory message to the Cleveland Cavaliers on their National Basketball Association title last year. He revealed that as a supporter of Cleveland’s opponent, the Golden State Warriors, he was outnumbered in his house by Cavs fans.

India

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined Twitter in 2009 and today has 27 million followers of his personal page and 16 million of the PM office’s page. He sent 233 tweets in January. Although not all tweets generate responses, he had about 2.8 million interactions.

The subjects of his tweets in English and Hindi have varied; he has asked for people’s thoughts about his new personal app, shared pictures of rallies he’s attended in Ghaziabad, and discussed such issues as demonetization, sanitation coverage in rural areas and defense of the sanctity of institutions above politics. He’s one of a few leaders who reply to their followers.  

Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s English-language page shows he sent about 15 tweets in January, and subjects included a conversation with Trump and a videoconference in which he was briefed on tests of a new jet fighter.

All the tweets have links to the official Kremlin website for longer articles. He has 489,000 followers on the page’s English version and 3.59 million on the official Kremlin page, which tweets in Russian.

Twitter’s problems

Whether one’s followers are in the millions or hundreds, people don’t always engage with every tweet. Goodstein said there are also problems Twitter needs to address, including spam, robot tweets and idle accounts. But he also said the Twittersphere is engaged enough that those who tweet authentically will be able to draw others into conversations.

The biggest mistake that politicians make on Twitter is that they want to use it as “a one-way communication and forget the word ‘social,’ ” Goodstein said. The medium is not meant to be used as a public relations device to send out old-fashioned press releases, he said.

Glasser said Twitter has a place in the political landscape but cautioned that it’s dangerous to use in matters of diplomacy. For example, he said, “it’s not a useful tool for announcing policy. One hundred forty characters doesn’t provide enough room for context, nuance and sophistication that public diplomacy requires.”