Boasting over 404,000 followers as of 10:26 a.m. EDT on Saturday, the CIA finally joined Twitter to a big welcome. The first tweet sent out by the agency at 10:49 a.m. EDT said that the CIA could “neither confirm nor deny that this is our first tweet.” The tweet has over 220,000 retweets and counting.
The agency plans to participate in Throwback Thursday (#tbt), a popular trending topic where Twitter users post old pictures of themselves. They also want to look back on the agency’s history and to post “fun facts” from its World Factbook, according to a state release that announced the CIA’s expansion of its presence on social media.
The CIA on Twitter follows just 25 accounts so far, and one of them, the FBI, also welcomed them to Twitter. The agency also joined Facebook as it attempts to give social media a try. The second and latest tweet simply thanked followers for welcoming the CIA to Twitter and that they look forward to sharing “great #unclassified content” as the weekend officially began.
Updates on job postings and a sneak peak into the CIA’s Museum that “most people never get to see” have also been proposed as content on its Twitter timeline. The account is to be run by the agency’s public affairs office. Official YouTube and Flickr accounts have been made as well.
The CIA’s first tweet is a throwback itself of a “Glomar response” to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by a reporter in 1975. It was first made popular after a reporter confronted the CIA over a covert operation that involved a sunken Russian submarine. She accused the agency of trying to cover it up from the public. The CIA responded by saying it could “neither confirm nor deny” the claims after her FOIA request was rejected.
The agency hopes to engage “more directly” with the American public and to “provide information on the CIA’s mission, history and other developments,” according to a statement from CIA Director John Brennan. Unclassified information being more accessible to the “public we serve” was stressed as well.
Someone already had the @CIA handle and the agency finally secured it after “a lengthy process,” according to CIA spokesman Dean Boyd. An impersonation complaint was filed with Twitter, and the microblogging site took it from there. Before this impersonator account, the Cleveland Institute of Art had the same handle but got rid of it last year to avoid confusion with the agency.
In less than nine hours of the Twitter account being made, followers reached over 260,000. On Facebook, the CIA page had over 18,000 likes at 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday. According to Simply Measured, an agency that provides social media analytics, the CIA’s first tweet got more attention than the first White House, FBI and President Obama tweets combined.
Some of those wary of the CIA hopping onto the social media bandwagon are aware that a group from the agency looks at public tweets and statuses from users overseas. It has been reported that this group scans up to 5 million posts a day. Kimberly Dozier, a reporter for the Associated Press, told NPR that the CIA had predicted the Arab Spring following the 2009 Twitter revolution in Iran.
Critics of the CIA such as Zeke Johnson, who is the director of Amnesty International USA’s Security and Human Rights Program, demanded that the agency reveal “the full truth” on its use of torture and drone strikes. He added that the agency, too, should follow the law in real life as much as they do on social media platforms.
The CIA is well behind some of the accounts it follows in joining Twitter, but its welcome was generally warm. The Defense Intelligence Agency joined the site in February 2010 after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which joined in July 2009. The U.S. Navy joined that same month, with the Department of Defense joining in August 2009. The U.S. Air Force made an account in June 2009, and the U.S. Army joined Twitter ahead of time in September 2007. The U.S. Marine Corps joined two months later in November 2007.
By Sibylla Chipaziwa