Lifestyle & Belief

Social Media Power Index: World leaders


Facebook's reach around the world.



Welcome to the GlobalPost Social Media Power Rankings. If popularity is power, we thought, how powerful are the world's sitting heads of state?

Social media gives us an easy way to quantify a leader's popularity (or a city's popularity, or a corporation's, and so on).

So we looked at the most popular social networking sites around the globe, including Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, Bebo, Badoo and several others. Most of the sites, we found, had no official pages for world leaders, so we nixed them. We then added up the friends, likes and followers of the rest to determine which world leaders wielded the most clout.

Here's what we found:

Social media is a powerful tool. Unfortunately — or, perhaps, fortunately — no one told the world’s heads of state.

Activists have used Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a half dozen other social networking sites to rally the masses across the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and many other parts of the world in their effort to peacefully challenge the powers that be.

And they’ve met with success, even when those rulers reach back for that more familiar but antiquated tool — the gun — to try and hold on a little bit longer.

At least two entrenched autocrats, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, were toppled by protest movements that built momentum using social media outlets. Several other leaders are teetering on the brink.

But while their constituents log on en masse (even the Taliban is on Twitter), the world’s political leaders, who could use social media's organizing potential in much the same way, have yet to tap into its power.

(Follow the leader: See the Top 25 most powerful world leaders according to social media)

There is one exception: U.S. President Barack Obama.

With more than 30 million likes and followers, Obama has so much social media clout he was rendered a statistical anomaly when the data for this map was compiled. So we left him off. (You can see what the global balance of power looks like with Obama included below.)

The leader with the next highest number of friends, followers and likes is — surprisingly — the president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III, with more than 2 million Facebook likes and more than 500,000 followers on Twitter. Maybe Aquino learned from his predecessor, Joseph Estrada, who was effectively driven out of office by a text-messaging campaign, the precursor to social media campaigns, in 2001.

The numbers drop off significantly as you go down the list. Many leaders around the world have less than 100,000 friends, likes and followers, and most have none at all. So what does it all mean?

It seems that the world’s leaders are woefully out of touch.

Take the United Kingdom’s David Cameron, who barely breaks the top 25 with a bit more than 130,000 likes on Facebook and no followers on Twitter. He famously brushed aside Twitter in 2009 for being too “instant.”

“The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it — too many twits might make a twat,” he said during a radio interview. His comment spread through Twitter, instantly, and he was forced to apologize. Cameron still has no Twitter account.

Or how about the Middle East? The leaders there rank the lowest in our research, while the people who live under them make frenetic use of social media to oust them one by one.

(GlobalPost in Damascus: The real voices of the Syrian uprising.)

The only sitting leader in the Middle East that cracks the top 25 is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who could be considered beloved with a little over 160,000 likes and followers combined. Mohammad ElBaradei, formerly the leading opposition candidate when Mubarak was still in power and now the leading candidate (according to a Facebook poll) as September elections approach, ranks a more respectable #9 on our list.

You might think that a leader's popularity is determined by the size of the country's population. You'd be right, partly. But many leaders on our list — Obama, Elbaradei and Netanyahu included — have fans and followers from all over the world. The beauty of using social media to measure a leader's popularity is that anyone with an internet connection, anywhere, can cast their vote. On today's globalized planet, where a government leader can wield significant power across political boundaries, such a measurement could be telling.

Social media might just be the new benchmark on which global power is measured.

Or, maybe not.

(All maps are courtesy of our friends at

Here's what happens if you add Barack Obama and his more than 30 million followers to the map:

And here's a regional breakdown:

The balance of power in the Middle East and North Africa:

The balance of power in Asia:

The balance of power in Europe:

The balance of power in the Americas:

The balance of power in Africa:

Written by Peter Gelling. Produced by Nicholas Dynan.




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