The Rise of Social Media: A New Frontier of Diplomacy
As the robust advance of information and communication technologies (ICT) continue to enable and facilitate people around the globe to connect and to interact directly with one another, social media outlets have stolen the attentions of many bureaucrats for their major role in voicing peoples’ aspirations and shaping public policies in many areas. Along with the exponential growth of social media around the world, many government officials, including diplomats, have utilized this channel to conduct and expand their public diplomacy.
Only recently, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono officially joined Twitter, using the account @SBYudhoyono, adding to an already long list of head of states/governments and prominent leaders actively using Twitter to communicate with their citizens and the world. President Barack Obama, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, President Abdullah Gül of Turkey and Queen Raina of Jordan are among the avid users of this micro-blogging platform.
This emergence of new diplomatic operating environment enables diplomats and relevant officials to communicate, connect, interact and maintain contacts with their domestic as well as foreign constituencies. Two-way dialogues are easier to build, creating direct and personal communication channels to listen and respond to the societies’ needs.
Although many argue that the advance ICT in the form of social media only add a new dimension in foreign policies’ business, it is widely accepted that the wider use of social media outlets, such as Facebook and Twitter, do create and bring significant impacts on the ground. As a wide range of opinions, political views and interests, and even mobilization of activities are widely and easily shared, peoples-driven transformation process are more likely to take place. The Arab Spring is indeed one of the illustrious examples of this phenomenon, lauded the role of social media and even coined the term “Twitter Revolution”.
While security and political issues are still considered sensitive and tend to be handled in more traditional ways, many foreign ministries expand their public diplomacy efforts focusing on social, economy and cultural exchanges through social media.Rigorous dissemination of information of one country’s values and cultures has been aggressively conducted in these platforms.
Nevertheless, as this new technological revolution is bearing down on foreign ministries, it proves to be difficult for many. The slow pace of adaption in digital diplomacy by many foreign ministries suggests that there is a degree of uncertainty over this novel concept. Perhaps, two of the biggest questions here are what digital diplomacy is and what it can be used for. In addition, how to effectively formulate and implement communication strategies using these new platforms continues to be debated.
At this juncture, one particular foreign ministry has been considered successful in embracing these novel technologies. The U.S. State Department has been known as “the world’s leading user” of e-diplomacy or some might say, internet diplomacy. The U.S. State Department, including its representatives and missions abroad, has been strategically using websites and technology-based venues to help carry out its diplomatic affairs.
Along the same line, the European Union continues to adapt its policies and approaches in dealing with the world’s affairs and responding to the exponential growth of social media. Some ASEAN member countries, such as Thailand and the Philippines, are also on the front lines when it comes to digital diplomacy. Indonesia, to some extent, has also joined the game and made use of these latest technologies.
As Indonesian foreign policies are now centering on the enhanced economic and cultural diplomacy in advancing its national interests, social media outlets certainly offer opportunities and advantages that are too good to be missed.
Therefore, there is an urgent need to portray the use of social media outlets in diplomacy and further, to demonstrate that, when their use responds to the audience’s needs and strategically considers the overall information landscape, they can be utilized as effective public diplomacy tools. One way of doing it is by taking comparative analysis about the current use of social media by the U.S. State Department and Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which, hopefully will provide more complete pictures of valuable contribution, as well as challenges and possible risks, of the use of social media in enhancing public diplomacy, including economic and cultural diplomacy.
It is important to note that digital diplomacy is not a replacement for face-to-face diplomacy, but rather a complement to it. Social media serves as one of the catalysts which expedite the desired changes on the ground. Certainly, social media alone cannot cause revolutions or social movements, but it has proved to be an effective tool for strengthening and amplifying the message we want to deliver. And in the case of economic and cultural diplomacy, social media fits in well.
Taking all the aforementioned development into consideration, it is therefore timely to take a closer look and conduct a critical review of maximizing social media and digital diplomacy platforms and integrate them into our diplomatic practices.