The question is not whether comedian Jon Stewart was right in slamming the Egyptian government for jailing local humorist Bassem Youssef for allegedly insulting Islam and the presidency of Mohammed Morsi. Of course he was right, and his may have been one of the few news outlets – fake or otherwise – to bring attention to the issue. Nor is the question whether the U.S. Embassy in Cairo should express its consternation with the jailing; it is absolutely the role of American missions to stand up for free speech and democracy.
The disturbing part of this little drama is this: has human discourse – even that among diplomats and world leaders – become so degraded and teenage that they are communicating through Twitter?
The dust-up started when the U.S. Embassy tweeted a link to Stewart's bit on Youssef. The Egyptian government (or at least a Twitter account connected to the Egyptian government) shot back, saying "It's inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda." Then the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the nation's Muslim Brotherhood, got into the social media act, tweeting, "Another undiplomatic & unwise move by @USEmbassyCairo, taking sides in an ongoing investigation & disregarding Egyptian law & culture."
OMG, is this really the way we want to be conducting diplomacy – particularly in a part of the world that is still in a post- Arab Spring mode? This isn't the behavior of adult political and diplomatic officials. This is "The OC."
Keeping with the junior high school theme, the U.S. embassy removed the tweet – perhaps the right thing to do from a normal, adult diplomatic perspective, but since these are social media rules, the office quickly got slammed for backing down like a bunch of wimps and nerds. They probably will get shunned in the lunch cafeteria as well. What's next – a little Facebook bullying, with the two governments calling each other mean names and deriding the others' social status? LOL, the Egyptian government is like, soooo lame and was, like, totally bogus when they said they'd be better than the previous regime.
Twitter is not useless in politics, or at least, in political organizing. Twitter and Facebook were instrumental in spurring the Arab Spring – though it should be noted that social media worked as an organizing tool. People still had to actually show up at the square and be ready to die for political change.
Diplomacy is a delicate art. It can't be done in 140 characters or fewer.