Journalist Ian Birrell in Twitter row with Rwandan president

Former Independent deputy editor Ian Birrell believes his “Twitterspat” with Rwandan president Paul Kagame underlines why the social media website is now ‘the most important journalistic tool around”.

The row kicked off after Birrell made disparaging comments on his Twitter page about an interview with Kagame that appeared in the Financial Times (behind paywall).

Birrell has described the encounter as ‘slightly surreal’and writing in The Guardian he said:

The exchange raises various questions – not least whether you can really conduct a complex and highly-charged debate in 140 characters at a time. The answer is probably no, although the genius of the medium is how it draws attention to issues and amplifies them.

Birrell described Kagame’s tweets as being ‘peppered with the sort of text abbreviations used by teenagers”. In one exchange he wrote:

You give yourself the right to abuse pple and judge them like you r the one to decide and determine universally what s right or wrong and what shd be believed or not!! Wrong r u …u have not such right…

This was nothing compared with Kagame’s foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo, who weighed into the debate when she asked Burrell:

Wld u care 2 know what 11,000,000 Rwandans think of Paul Kagame b4 u spread ur formed opinion? 2 big a challenge 4 u?

While Birrell himself describes the exchange as ‘bizarre”, he also sees it as further evidence of Twitter’s ‘revolutionary nature’and its status as ‘the most important journalistic tool around”.

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