Digital Diplomacy: The Role of Twitter

Gulsara JABBARLI

Digital Diplomacy and Social Media

According to the literature on digital diplomacy, social media may aid nations in enhancing their goodwill through involvement and communication. According to Ciolek, “social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are merely new instruments for enhancing the connection with audiences in a developing information environment. They have not fundamentally transformed the aims of public diplomacy” (Ciolek, 2010) 

The U.S. President, however, “disrupts customary conventions of diplomatic discourse” through Twitter, according to new research by Simunjak and Caliandro (2018). Through his social media interactions with international leaders, Donald Trump is developing new rules for diplomatic discourse.

Social media creates new doors for public diplomacy since it allows for cross-border interaction with the general public and targeted audiences (cf. Glassman, 2008, Vergeer and Hermans, 2013, Wigand, 2010). To connect “directly, constantly, and unrestrictedly with the audience” (Graham, Broersma, Hazelhoff, & van’t Haar, 2013, p.708), public authorities can use social media, to overcome budgetary and administrative barriers.

It should come as no surprise that governments urge organisations and public affairs professionals to use social media as part of their communication strategies (Criado et al., 2013, Righton, 2013). However, it appears that there is a disconnect between the general idea of using social media and its practical application within governmental organisations (Criado et al., 2013, Meijer and Thaens, 2010).

Governmental personnel in particular were shown to be hesitant to communicate with stakeholders on social media (Baxter and Marcella, 2012, Graham et al., 2013, Saffer et al., 2013, Small, 2011). For instance, in an interview study, embassy officials from the Arab League claimed that while new media constitute a challenge to them, they also bring new opportunities for public diplomacy (Khakimova, 2013).

As social media’s ability to influence events continues to develop, this ebook may be used as a crucial compass to navigate the always-shifting waters of digital diplomacy and international communication. It offers a wide array of examples of influential foreign policy players using Twitter to communicate on a global scale and makes some insightful comments, presenting to the reader an accurate snapshot of the state of play of public diplomacy. 

Twiplomacy

Twiplomacy, also known as Twitter diplomacy, is the fusion of conventional and modern diplomacy. Other politicians resort to the mainstream media when a world leader tweets about a global event or a new policy framework to either respond to the tweet, defend it or just express their view on the subject at hand. These responses add to the internet debate, which in turn influences public opinion.

The way we view the world has altered because of 140 characters. They have altered how foreign policy develops and reacts to fresh global concerns. This phenomenon was known as Vox Populi in ancient Rome; it is known by many various names today, including e-diplomacy, Digital Diplomacy, Twiplomacy, and others. They all relate to the use of the Internet, information and communications technology (ICT), and social media platforms to engage in diplomatic operations and accomplish foreign policy goals, even if they are not exact synonyms. While Twitter is now the most popular e-diplomacy tool, foreign ministries throughout the world are using a variety of other platforms to participate in the most exciting and viral new trend in contemporary diplomacy.

Differences Between Twiplomacy and Traditional Diplomacy 

Traditional diplomacy is generally bound by decorum and formality; Twitter diplomacy is not. Twitter and other social media platforms allow government officials to broadcast their views on pertinent issues and developments in the public domain without the need for formal diplomatic channels or jargon. It also allows people to reach out to government officials more easily. Indeed, Twiplomacy breaks through the limitations of traditional diplomacy, which is hinged on a top-down bureaucratic approach when it comes to negotiation and the dissemination of information.

Many diplomatic missions use Twitter to interact with citizens directly and give discussions on foreign policy a more interactive feel. In that regard, Twitter diplomacy has increased the openness of discussions about foreign policy. American foreign policy gradually shifted in the 1970s when the Vietnam War became the first conflict to be broadcast on television. As a result of the American people’s exposure to the horrors of war, there was a rapid rise in the number of large-scale peace initiatives. The “era of the naked diplomat”[1] denotes a moment when diplomacy has emerged from its ozone-shrouded confines and has become more open and transparent in its policy deployment and articulation.

The speed, volume, and range of information that diplomats require to make educated choices is another important distinction between old diplomacy and modern diplomacy. [3] Twiplomacy has some key differences from conventional diplomacy. On the one hand, it legitimises informal exchanges between governments and between governments and citizens; on the other hand, it has the potential to undermine the legitimacy of and value of formal channels of communication because they give diplomats time to fine-tune the information disseminated. For instance, the Morse Telegraph, which was speedier than the prior techniques, was a breakthrough in communications in the 18th century. The Morse Telegraph was less reliable for long-distance communication since its operation was reliant on the weather and visibility.

Diplomacy Over Twitter: Advantages

Ease of Communication

To fulfil their foreign policy goals, states must communicate with their home population, their foreign population, and other governments. Twiplomacy promotes individuals to participate in foreign policy discussions and decision-making, making such processes more democratic. A tweet addressed to the head of state might start a dialogue if the general public is unhappy with the present political landscape or recent policy decisions. This reduces red tape and broadens outreach.

Additionally, discussions between diplomats from other nations serve as a prelude to formal negotiations, fostering bilateral and multilateral connections. Twiplomacy provides a forum for discussion that challenges conventional ideas of diplomatic communication through official channels. Therefore, this medium of dialogue has increased online engagement with their counterparts in front of a global audience, which helps in mending relations and developing interpersonal trust between counterparts.

Ahead of the June 2019, G20 meeting in Japan, for instance, US President Donald Trump tweeted from his account: “I look forward to speaking with Prime Minister Modi about the fact that India, for years having put very high tariffs against the United States, just recently increased the tariffs even further. This is unacceptable, and the tariffs must be withdrawn!”

Crisis Response Mechanism

Shortly after departing Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 800 Max crashed on the morning of March 10. Four Indians were among the 157 dead. The same day, Sushma Swaraj, a former foreign minister of India who is now deceased, used Twitter to contact the family of one of the victims. The authorities eventually succeeded in getting in touch with the deceased woman’s spouse after putting together several logistics.

Image Enhancement

Recognition is grounded within Hegelian philosophy, which suggests that an actor’s identity is formed through continual interaction with another. Managing how a state is recognised by other states is a key component of diplomacy. Social media platforms such as Twitter are key tools when it comes to managing recognition. Twitter, among other user-generated sites, effectively “cultivate communities of identity performance that reaffirm more than a question” the parameters of state identity. How states manage and represent themselves on Twitter can inform foreign policy and further lead to making particular foreign policy options plausible while ruling out others. Identifying trends in communication during periods of sensitive international negotiations can lead one to make predictions regarding political possibilities for change earlier than might normally be the case.

Disadvantages of Twitter Diplomacy

Undermines Official Diplomacy

One can anticipate political possibilities for change by analysing the tweets by officials earlier than usual, but this can also be misleading. When citizens read and analyse tweets, they tend to think that they represent the official policy of the country. However, a contradiction might exist between the official policy and the stand taken by officials on Twitter.

The flipside of easing communication among government officials and between diplomats and citizens is that the informal environment on Twitter can undermine the effect of traditional diplomacy. Moreover, putting up diplomats on platforms like Twitter creates an atmosphere of uncertainty amongst the people, which could work as a moral deflator.

Escalation of Conflict

Several instances of international leaders exchanging verbal blows on Twitter have occurred. The most influential world leader on the platform, per a 2018 online survey on Twiplomacy, is Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump). His infuriating tweets at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have repeatedly caused the crisis between North Korea and the United States to escalate, almost leading to a nuclear exchange in July 2017. On 3 July 2017, after North Korea launched another nuclear missile, Donald Trump mockingly tweeted: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”

Compromises Security

The use of Twitter for diplomatic purposes has a negative impact on cyber security. Cyberspace has been the target of several attacks with goals ranging from data theft, extortion, or simple disruption. An illustration of these security risks is the ransomware assault from 2018 that affected over 100 nations. Additionally, both state actors, such as political adversaries, and non-state actors, such as terrorist organisations, have the potential to hack into Twitter accounts. One of the dangers of the internet has always been hacking, as was demonstrated in the case from January 2019 in which all German political parties represented in the federal parliament except for the far-right Alternative for Germany were compromised. Angela Merkel, the chancellor, and Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the president, were the main targets. The data published on Twitter included mobile phone numbers, contact information, private chats, ID cards, and financial details. Further, the hackers published Merkel’s fax number, email address and several letters written by and addressed to her.

Conclusion

A crucial arrow in diplomacy’s quiver nowadays is social media. Modern nations are based not just on power and riches, but also on their ability to carry out diplomatic duties via the use of emerging technologies in communication, such as social media. As a result of offering a direct line of connection and interaction between diplomats and civilians that enables the former to eschew burdensome bureaucratic procedures, Twitter has emerged as a wonderful soft power instrument in this time and place.

Twitter and other social media sites have contributed to improving—or detracting from—the public’s impression of politicians in recent years. One of the best examples of this would be from India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s use of Twitter has helped enhance his public image.

Twitter will continue to be a diplomatic instrument, and while it has so far only been used for public diplomacy, it may soon be used for other diplomatic activities as well. The casual messaging service that caters to a large audience and has further modified itself to be acceptable to the general market can be used to describe the new normal. The question is, however, whether this method of diplomacy works because Twitter has evolved into a platform for settling scores, venting frustrations, and igniting nationalist fervour. While state leaders and diplomats have successfully incorporated Twitter and other social media platforms for issues relating to public diplomacy and communication with citizens at home and across international borders, they are still navigating the complexities of social media and working on how to use Twitter to its full potential when it comes to discussing important policy issues and interacting with other politicians and state heads.

The level of substantive accomplishments that this new type of 21st-century statecraft has acquired will be revealed in the future, but for now, this form needs more development and examination.

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