Ashton Kutcher touts Twitter in Russia

Joins tech leaders in Moscow for talks on social media

MOSCOW -- Film star and Twitter celebrity Ashton Kutcher encouraged Russians on Thursday to share ideas through social media websites during a visit by U.S. technology leaders to Moscow.

Kutcher, with more than 4.5 million followers on microblogging site Twitter, is the star of the No. 1 film at the U.S. boxoffice last weekend, "Valentine's Day."

"More importantly than anything I write, it's really about what you write on your blogs," Kutcher said at a press briefing.

"That is the power of the social web, which is to say you don't have to be a celebrity or sit on a podium to have a community that you can build, run an idea, a thought, a piece of leadership," he said.

Kutcher was joined by U.S. State Department officials and executives from U.S. technology firms including eBay and hardware manufacturer Cisco Systems. eBay this week said it is entering the Russian market.

The delegation is meeting Kremlin officials, universities and private businesses to see how Russia and the U.S. can work together on technology issues, one of the projects set up by the two countries as they seek to improve relations.

Twitter has been cited as an information source in Iran and Moldova, where anti-government protesters bypassed censored official media organizations to publish details on events.

But Twitter's founder and chairman Jack Dorsey, was skeptical about the direct role of technology to promote democratic movements when he later spoke with Reuters.

"I think the technology will always be a neutral body. I think the important question is how is Russia going to adapt the technology, how is Russia going to use it, not just as a country but as individuals and that has yet to be defined," Dorsey said.

By spring 2009 there were 7.4 million Russian-speaking blogs, including half a million online community groups, almost doubling in a year, according to Russian search engine Yandex.

With Russia's main television channels closely aligned with the Kremlin and stifling dissent, the Internet has become a lively focus for opposition debate but Moscow-based social media expert Nick Wilsdon of said sites like Twitter can be used by authorities and not just protest movements.

"Twitter would probably be a better example of democracy in action if more people followed their elected representatives than their favorite film star," Wilsdon told Reuters by email.