- Associated Press - Thursday, February 10, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations held a global town hall meeting from Twitter headquarters Thursday morning where she cited the enormous impact of social media in the recent unrest in Egypt and elsewhere.

Ambassador Susan Rice spoke at the company’s San Francisco office, where she fielded questions submitted via Twitter from around the world.

The 370-employee company, which a spokeswoman says tripled in size last year, occupies several floors of a downtown San Francisco office building.

The Rolling Stones blared from speakers before Rice’s appearance in front of a young crowd of employees, whose jeans and untucked shirts contrasted sharply with the suits and ties of the ambassador’s staff.

Rice sat next to a couch adorned with pillows reading “Home Tweet Home,” while Twitter’s vice president of international operations and the company’s chief counsel read her questions from Twitter posts marked with the hashtag AskAmbRice.

“The power of this technology, the power of social networking to channel and champion public sentiment, has been more evident in the past few weeks than ever before,” Rice said.

The U.S. supports an orderly, prompt transition to democracy in Egypt, Rice said.

She declined to comment on speculation that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would soon be stepping down. Mubarak announced later Thursday that he wouldn’t step down or leave the country but would hand over power to the country’s vice president.

“We need to now see a process in which all elements of the opposition are able to negotiate with the government on a constitutional and responsible path that will lead to free and fair democratic elections,” Rice said. “That process needs to proceed and be irreversible.”

Rice’s visit comes amid worldwide discussion of social media’s role in recent uprisings. The U.S. State Department has recently ramped up efforts to leverage social media as a diplomatic tool, including the launch of an Arab language Twitter feed Wednesday.

Despite the focus on the role of Twitter and Facebook in organizing protests in Egypt, Rice said her appearance at Twitter was not meant to convey any symbolism with respect to the protests.

Twitter has hosted other political figures in the past, including former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

The company has remained circumspect about its role in Egypt.

“We’re humbled by the way the people there have used Twitter to communicate with each other and people around the globe,” the company said in a statement. “We’ve always believed that the open exchange of information can have a positive impact.”



Susan Rice on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ambassadorrice

Video of meeting: https://www.ustream.tv/AmbassadorRice



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