Diplomacy In The Digital Era: Between Opportunities And Risks

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Digital diplomacy is a type of modern public diplomacy that aims to improve diplomatic ties by utilising social media, new information and communication technologies (ICT), and the internet. Greater information availability increased contact between people and organisations, and increased openness are the primary differences between classical public diplomacy and modern public diplomacy (Chakraborty, 2013). Foreign ministries, embassies, and representatives of international organisations now routinely update their websites. The websites of foreign ministries serve to outline and document their respective countries’ international policies as well as to refute any undesirable behaviour or assertions made by other countries (Barston, 2014). Other significant diplomatic weapons now include social media. A surge of openness and transparency that has never been seen before has been brought about by this global use of internet platforms. Social media has evolved into the most effective instrument for communicators since it offers a platform for unrestricted communication. The most widely used social media platforms by international performers are Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Periscope, and Snapchat.

Both digitalization and diplomacy are here to stay. For governments to meet their domestic and international obligations, it is crucial to balance the effects of digitization with the diplomatic process’ usefulness. Although the difficulty of using social media in diplomacy should not be ignored, Brian Hocking and Jan Melissen contend that digital diplomacy is more than the application of social media to conventional diplomatic functions. If they want to survive, foreign ministries must-have digital strategies. The necessity for them to build narratives to describe their purposes and reframe their roles will increase as a result of digitization. According to popular thinking, digitization not only presents new avenues for achieving these goals, but it also does not alter the essential goals of diplomacy. Governments need to take a more nuanced approach because digitalization will put core diplomatic norms to the test. All sorts of diplomats will have to work in both offline and online settings. Foreign ministries are cautioned against ‘following the herd’ in their approach to the problems of the digital era. They should identify their goals and avoid using digital resources as another channel for top-down communication.

The Benefits of Digital Diplomacy

  • Strengthening international relations– There are several forms and sizes of diplomacy. It is being directed by presidents, prime ministers, attorneys, economists, scientists, humanitarians, and, of course, diplomats. They demonstrated both the multiplicity of prospective diplomatic players and the consistency of what we could refer to as the “diplomatic style” – the attempt to expand power and influence via creative alliances and tactics rather than through ad hoc acts of force (Hutchings & Suri, 2015). The rise and deepening of political, economic, and cultural connections outside of national borders characterise the globalisation age (Salmon, 2000). International players in the twenty-first century include nations, ethnic-nationalist elements, multinational businesses, intergovernmental organisations, non-governmental organisations, numerous transnational movements and networks, and even individuals (Mingst, 2008).
  • Proximity with audiences– The geographic separation between MFAs and embassies is no longer as significant as it once was. Websites, blogs, and social media platforms on the internet have drawn an increasing number of international leaders in politics and diplomacy as well as users from all over the world. Nations have traditionally contacted overseas audiences when doing so furthers certain political or economic objectives (Snow & Taylor, 2009). Blogs may help create an identity that is primarily personal for the owner and can be active, engaging, introspective, and multifaceted. Diplomats can watch events, acquire data, and find important influencers thanks to social media. They also offer ways to have an impact on groups other than the usual ones. They can help in the consultation process, and policy formulation and help share ideas. In social media, to penetrate deeply different audiences must be applied the “Think globally, act locally” formula (Shih, 2009). WikiLeaks has brought a conceptual shift in which digital and social media tools are seen as tools for communicating with online audiences rather than online audiences. 
  • Fast and effective communications– Niccolo Machiavelli became interested in power structures and viewed politics as a new form of art out of a desire for a strong state that could prevent the threat of invasion from outsiders (Machiavelli, 2003). Machiavelli was a failure as a politician and a diplomat in his day, an average guy who got into trouble. No matter how clever his plans were, none of his brilliant strategies was successful. He was viewed as a failure because, in the sixteenth century, a brilliant strategy was not always the best course of action since it was influenced by interests and intrigues. Machiavelli lacked a focal point from which to direct his plan. Machiavelli lacked a central focus from which to direct his plan. He would be highly successful if he used Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media platform since he would leverage public opinion, especially followers, retweets, or likes that would take, to raise certain problems (Sandre, 2015). In many situations, having quick awareness of different events can help advance the national interest. Digital technologies are very helpful for quickly communicating in critical situations as well as acquiring and analysing information on the diplomatic activity.
  • Low financial cost– As a result of ongoing technological breakthroughs, the costs associated with utilising new technologies are fast decreasing. International experience demonstrates that those who engage in digital diplomacy may reap significant rewards through the skilful use of the instruments. Additionally, investing money is not always necessary for digital diplomacy. On the contrary, it frequently aims to cut expenditures. Twitter messages, for instance, can promote public, media, and political-diplomatic participation to examine troubling topics, identify individuals responsibly, and bring about constructive change. Due to its lack of financial impact, digital diplomacy is increasingly appealing to governments, MFAs, and embassies as a means of expanding their work.
  • Favouring small states– Several quantitative factors, including the size of the territory, the population, the GDP, and the strength of the armed forces, are used to define “small states.” Smaller countries confront several difficulties while implementing their foreign policies. The biggest obstacle preventing these governments from carrying out their foreign policies effectively is their financial capabilities. All sorts of states, but especially tiny governments, benefit from digital diplomacy. A typical example is the Republic of Kosovo, which views digital diplomacy as helping its cause because it connects its diplomats and citizens with people from other states, who then exert pressure on their countries to recognise the newest state in the Balkans. Kosovo is a small, newly independent country with limited financial resources.

The Risks of Digital Diplomacy

  • Freedom from the internet and social media– Connections, knowledge of norms in other cultures, and taking notes on regulations and best practices are all encouraged by the globalisation of information. However, less positive occurrences have also been significantly impacted by modern communication technology. They also serve to rally and gather support for xenophobic and terrorist organisations (Kinsman & Bassuener, 2010). The internet is also thought to be a conduit for the propagation of terrorism, extremism, and alien beliefs. Then, anybody may join social networks as a member, from global governments to diverse extremist organisations, with the latter disseminating whatever their standards, beliefs, and goals may be (Kalathil, 2013). Critics of digital diplomacy view independence from the internet and social media as harmful because of features like “Trojan Horse.” The internet expands the range of voices and interests that may be considered when formulating international laws, complicating this process and eroding the country’s sole authority over it. Different state and regime players, each with their interests, objectives, and values, create various security scenarios (Kolodziej, 2005). External dangers from other nations or other international entities, including terrorists, must be a state’s assurance. Additionally, it must provide security in the face of internal challenges to its reputation, law, territory, or demographic integrity (Collins, 2009). Between august 2015 and December 2017, the social network Twitter closed 1.2 million accounts for terrorist apologies with the purpose to prevent the promotion of terrorism. However, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube continue to have pressure from some world governments, which are criticizing them for not being strict enough in their fight against terrorist propaganda.
  • Lack of knowledge about the usage of the internet and social media– In reality, there are no secrets on the internet nowadays. People’s perspectives on the world and methods of communication are altering as a result of the social media revolution. Additionally, technology has made everyone more aware of the consequences — both positive and bad — a single remark, tweet, Facebook comment, video, or image can have in a very short period. This has made it simpler for governments and embassies to interact with the people. Lack of expertise on how to use modern communication tools, the internet, and social media may have disastrous effects, lead to serious conflicts, and even end in the removal of politicians.
  • Disagreements– Because all governments and regimes must employ force to uphold the law, keep the peace inside the country, and defend the state from outside threats, all states are austere (Wikinson, 2007). The global period of the twenty-first century is distinguished by a feeling that no one is in charge, though. Even the most powerful nation in the world is unable to influence many matters (Booth, 2007). 1989 was the start of a new era in interactions between nations and people rather than the end of history (Inoguchi & Marsh, 2008). Globalization is said to be fueled by the internet and the services it provides. Thus, the reproof of the globalized world is to some extent a rebuke of the digital world.
  • The culture of anonymity– The culture of anonymity, which allows anybody to pretend to be someone else and harm particular people, presents another difficulty for digital diplomacy. Due to the broadcast of contradicting or even false information, the culture of anonymity can result in complex conflicts. The ability of leaders to handle the subsequent crises may be hampered by this type of pervasive misinformation on the internet. Social media platforms must update their pages to make it evident whether a post originates from a reliable source to prevent misuse. As a result of the “Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal,” Facebook is currently receiving the sharpest criticism in its 14-year existence about its user data handling policies and privacy procedures. The analytical data company that collaborated with US President Donald Trump’s electoral team and the campaign for Brexit’s victor built a potent software programme to forecast and sway the 2016 US presidential election using data from millions of American voters. Without the users’ knowledge, Cambridge Analytica got access to the information of over 87 million Facebook users.
  • Hacking– Many cyber optimists have become cyber pessimists as a result of the increasing pervasiveness of the digital world and the worry over upcoming assaults on key institutions. Since the creation of the internet, there has been a risk of hacking. He is often regarded as the biggest threat posed by digital diplomacy, and for good reason—many heads of state, leaders of nations, and diplomats have fallen prey to it, seldom to the detriment of their careers. To get information that might be useful to them for specific goals, diplomatic adversaries, including state and non-state organisations, attempt to hack governmental networks. The ability to use information effectively is what determines success in the ICT era, not the possession of the information itself. Because the reputations of governments and their leaders may suffer when private material is made public, this may have a swift and significant influence on international politics (Westcott, 2008). The top priority on the UN, NATO, ITU, OECD, OSCE, Commonwealth, G7 and G20 international diplomatic and political agendas is now cyber security. National cyber security plans and associated laws have been implemented by several nations. However, the threats are becoming more complex, and the parties looking to take advantage of cybernetic weaknesses have grown thanks to black-hat hacking covert hackers in well-organized criminal and terrorist organisations, government security services, and defence forces. The majority of the infrastructure and internet services are privately held, with operators dispersed throughout numerous international countries, which further complicates matters.


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