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Global elite takes to twitter as social media booms in Davos

posted 26 Jan 2011, 07:23 by Mpelembe   [ updated 26 Jan 2011, 07:44 ]

Social media takes on a more dominant role at the World Economic Forum in 2011 with participants and presidents taking to media such as Twitter and Facebook to network.

Organisers of the World Economic Forum (WEF), kicking off in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday (January 26), have said the place to look for the real news behind this year's forum will be on your computer screen, thanks to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

With tweeters twittering their reactions to debates streamed live on Facebook, and presidents and prime ministers taking to social networks, they say advances in social media have made the elite gathering more open to the public.

For over four decades, the WEF has been seen by many as being an exclusive networking opportunity for the world's western elite. Bilateral meetings behind closed doors and tightly controlled media access leave many feeling somewhat out of the loop.

But the forum's emphasis on social media might see that changing this year.

Shawn Ahmed, a participant in the forum and an avid user of social media such as Twitter and Facebook, says the rise of social media opens up a seemingly closed-door event.

That means it can be followed by people on their laptops all over the world - not just those taking part.

"The World Economic Forum has traditionally had a reputation as being a rather closed door venue, no one knows what's happening- it's like a big black box but social media changes that. What social media does is it turns it into an open, inclusive platform for everyone," he says.

Social media is now being adopted by presidents and prime ministers alike; US President Barack Obama, Russian President Dimitry Medvedev and British Prime Minister David Cameron are among those known to dabble in Twitter and Facebook.

Matthias Luefkens, Social Media Chief at the WEF says social media can give an interesting insight into the political workings and movements of world leaders.

"What is very interesting to see is who is related to who, who is following who- so you see that the Russian president is following President Obama and the UK Prime Minister David Cameron but they're ignoring all other G20 leaders. Now David Cameron has started to unilaterally follow all other G20 leaders so it's interesting to see new relations being built through these social networks on Twitter and also on Facebook," he said.

Added to this, over 400 of the 1,400 CEO's at this year's WEF will be reporting through social media.

With such a huge push on this front, some are questioning whether it's a genuine attempt to open up the gathering to the public.

"But I guess the big question is, really is this PR, is this just an attempt to give some democratic credibility to what is the ultimate meeting of the world's elite?" asked Reuters journalist and tweeter Ben Hirschler.

And Hirschler said social media is unlikely to ever take the place of meetings like Davos.

"You can get the raw material by sitting at home in front of your computer which begs the question: why are people coming here? And of course the real reason they are coming here is to network. That's what DAVOS is all about, it's meeting the people you need to talk to to do business," he added.

However, as with the Iranian elections in 2009 and the toppling of a government in Tunisia in 2011, the world has seen social media take a on a more dominant role in exposing and covering such huge political events. Video pictures now take little to no time to reach millions, and protests can be sparked by Facebook posts.

From a political point of view, this is sure to have some consequence and effect on governmental policy and decision making.

According to Klaus Schwab, founder and chairman of the WEF, Tunisia is a good example of how social media can be a catalyst for mass-politcal movements.

"If you look at Tunisia, I mean it's a very good example of what social media can do in mobilising populations. So what will happen, and that's also the new reality, is the decision making will much more influence from the bottom up and less from the top down," said Schwab.

More than 30 heads of state, over 1,400 business leaders and eight central bank chiefs including European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet are set to attend the 2011 World Economic Forum.