The Rise of Social Media : A New Frontier of Diplomacy #3


Continued.....

B.   The Changing Nature of Diplomacy – A Theoretical Review
As public diplomacy and strategic communications experts continue to explore the potential of the relatively new social media, one cannot deny the changing nature of the world of diplomacy. The marvel of information and communication technology has significantly impacted the conduct of diplomacy, which traditionally centered on government officials and took place behind the close doors.

Although many argue that ICT is only a tool which facilitates the overall business, but the changing nature of diplomacy is inevitable. New technologies are impacting the policies and changing the landscape of diplomacy, governance and international relations.

Along with the development of new communication means and tools, we have seen novel approaches involving information and communication technologies introduced and implemented in the conduct of diplomacy. Websites, social media outlets, and live-chats are now among the common platforms used by ministries and government agencies.

At the same time, those approaches and mediums enable government officials to seek and invite new partners and counterparts, which might include bloggers, artists and musicians. Many argue that the “21st century statecraft” can no longer be conducted exclusively between governments, but it must be government-to-people and people-to-people.[1]




Perhaps, it is also crucial to agree that interconnectedness is undeniably one of the significant characters of the 21st century. So is in the business of diplomacy. With connectivity as a crucial element in diplomacy, this is where ICT plays significant roles. Thanks to the exponential grow of the Internet, ensuring connectivity among states and peoples is not expensive nor complicated as it used to be. At this juncture, e-Diplomacy, or some might say, digital diplomacy, was born.

Moreover, in order to understand further the fascination over digital diplomacy, we need to refer to Joseph Nye’s theory of soft power. Described as “the ability to persuade through culture, values and ideas, as opposed to ‘hard power’, which conquers or coerces through military might, it further highlights the significant roles of “technology, education and economic growth,” in influencing the state’s behaviors.[2]
Whilst the ‘hard power’ approach has historically been a favored policy of governments in conducting international and regional relations, the need for a new way of cooperation and approach in this increasingly interconnected world is imperative. This is where the role of soft power in the form of public diplomacy becomes significant. Exchanges of ideas, values and cultures are packs and parcels within the international relations and social media fits in well with this notion. This expansive implication of soft power diplomacy has strengthened the role social media played in shaping public policies as well as ensuring connectivity among peoples and nations.
Here, the significant need of networking is also highlighted. Although it has been long recognized as one of the prerequisites of good diplomacy, but the way diplomats expand their networks are also evolving along with the advances of ICT. Some can argue that traditional venues such as formal meetings and functions like diplomatic receptions will serve this purpose, but ICT has proven to facilitate more acquaintances and sustain the relationships.[3]
Another development in the traditional conduct of diplomacy that is relevant here is multi-track diplomacy. Clearly, the conduct of diplomacy now involves many actors and stakeholders other than the diplomats or government officials. These many facets of diplomacy have to be managed and again, the evolution of public diplomacy includes the use of powerful new tools, social media outlets, to connect cultures, increase awareness, and advocate policy positions.
In the networked age where transparency and accountability are highly demanded, the growing desire of governments all over the world to have "two-way-dialogue" with their constituencies, whether it is at national, regional as well as international level, can be catered by social media.
In conjunction with that, networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and even local social media services like china’s micro blogging site, Sina Weibo, are now common platforms used by governments to interact with public. As expected, the U.S. is a leading player in this field, as the State Department has spawned approximately 301 Twitter accounts and 408 Facebook pages with millions of “followers” from every corner of the world.
Meanwhile, most other countries still lag behind although they have embraced or even implemented similar strategies to conquer digital diplomacy world. United Kingdom, which ranks number four on most active Twitter user and number six for most active Facebook members, now has around 20 of its ambassadors as active Twitter users, following William Hague, their tweeting foreign minister.
At individual level, no less than the late Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, managed his Twitter account actively with approximately 3.7 million followers. Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, has 1.5 million followers, while Barack Obama’s twitter account has nearly 20 million followers. Similarly, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s Pesident and Carl Bildt, Sweden’s Foreign Minister, add to this extensive list. In the case of Indonesia, two striking examples are Dino Patti Djalal, Indonesian Ambassador to the U.S., with 119.138 followers and 2,440 tweets; and Hazairin Pohan, the Head of Center for Education and Training as well as Indonesian Ambassador to Poland from 2006 - 2011, with 17,421 tweets and 1,743 followers, in times of writing.[4]
The European Union, which is the home of roughly 150 million of Facebook users, has also embraces digital diplomacy, with European External Action Service (EEAS) as the spearhead of EU’s public diplomacy. Creating Facebook page since May 2011 and maintaining two Twitter accounts, EEAS continues to improve its engagement through social media.[5]
If we analyze further, there are three main reasons why social media has been successfully chosen as the new frontier of diplomacy. Firstly, social media enables us to directly engage with citizens around the world. With millions of subscribers from almost every corner of the world, social media can facilitate the network expansion and make public diplomacy effective.  Second, sharing information in real-time and on global scale can be easily done. User-friendly technologies and down-to-earth approach used in social media make the dissemination process easier, faster, and farther. Third, intensive communication with extensive networks in social media enables us to understandpeople and events more deeply, giving us a more comprehensive picture of public’s aspirations and perspectives. Therefore, further analysis on the information received through social media will be the best use of it.
However, there are some limitations as well. We cannot deny that the slow pace adaptation to digital diplomacy by many foreign ministries suggest that there is a degree of uncertainty over what digital diplomacy is and its potentials. It can be a rude awakening for governments as digital diplomacy requires transparency, where some countries still restrict the internet connection for their citizens. At some point, loss of control due to public demands is the risks governments must be willing to take. In additions, the use of social media outlets do not always yield benefits, as people do have illicit and ill-fated purposes while using them. E-culture among people also varies, resulting in different level of acceptability and responsiveness towards contents distributed through social media outlets.
It is also important to note that digital diplomacy is not, and is never meant to be, a replacement of face-to-face diplomacy. It, in fact, builds on traditional statecraft, incorporating the new technologies, demographics and networks of the modern era. Social media is just a new means, new instrument, for advancing the same end which is built on the traditional government-to-government connections. It is indeed too naïve to believe that meaningful relationships with and among people can be built through social networking media only. Therefore, virtual interactions need to move forward in order to get real substantive gains in diplomacy.



[1] Owen Henry, ““Twitter Diplomacy” Engagement Through Social Media in 21st Century Statecraft,”(Accessed 15 October 2012), in http://etd.ohiolink.edu/view.cgl/ris.cgl?acc_num=oberlin1338307388.
[2]Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” Journal of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616: 94 – 109.
[3] Henry Owen, ibid.
[4] This paper was prepared in November 2012, using the latest data and statistics during the time of writing.
[5] Megan Kena, “Social Media: following EU public diplomacy and friending MENA”, Policy Brief, European Policy Centre, July 2011,(Accessed 15 November 2012) in http://hawk.ethz.ch/serviceengine/files/ISN/141498/epublicationdocument_singledocument/ 55edfa45-e002-4363-ac6a-292ccfd9042b/en/pub_1320_social_media.pdf

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