Technology and Diplomacy Twitter, the New Age Diplomat
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Abstract

In the past times, diplomacy developed as a means to avoid war. Diplomats used to be the agents of the state or of the ruler who used to stay in far off lands and take policy decisions on behalf of their state. Diplomats had to make well thought of decisions based on their own wit in alliance with their country’s policy and national interest. Hence, a lot of power resided in the hands of these diplomats and they were given a lot of privilege and grand titles during that time. In today’s world, there is a shift which has been witnessed from government to government diplomacy to public to public diplomacy and this has been possible due to the many social based platforms which have emerged due to the advent of technology. With a single click or comment nowadays a lot can be conveyed and little by little it effects the foreign policy or the way a nation conducts itself in the international arena. When we talk about social media one of the most used platforms which has been highly utilised for public diplomacy has been twitter. Infact recently the US secretary of state and various officials of Palestine have been exchanging tweets which has been helpful to identify America’s interest and further role in the Palestinian crisis in the future. This is one of the examples of how twitter is playing such a vital role in the conduct of diplomacy. Also, social media makes diplomacy very transparent and available for the general public, therefore, making democracy a core value in international politics. In this paper, the role of social media in specific to that of the role of twitter in conducting diplomacy is going to be analysed as Twitter being the new age diplomat.

Introduction

The innovation of new technology mostly in the field of gadgets and telecommunications has affected diplomacy. It was, for example, the entry of the railroads that originally gave diplomats extraordinary portability over land. Another significant defining moment was the innovation of the electric broadcast, which empowered immediate and quick correspondence among headquarters and missions. The technological platform provided a new form of governance and diplomacy in the international arena. It introduced the government and the citizens to social platforms which made the diplomacy public.

Diplomacy can be defined as the method of influencing the behavior as well as the decisions of foreign governments and their subjects through negotiation, dialogues, and another measure in order to avoid war and also, secure good relations for the benefit of one’s own nation. In the past diplomacy was mainly used to conduct bilateral relations with sovereign states but the end of the twentieth century, diplomacy became more multifaceted and expanded its horizons across the world to cover international institutions, summit meetings, international conferences, parliamentary diplomacy, and unofficial diplomacy through non-governmental organizations and the works of international civil service.

“E-diplomacy” can be defined as the use of innovative web-based communication technology by governments which allows convenient access to government information and also supports citizens to participate in democratic processes (Fang, 2002; Howard, 2001). Since the U.S. government introduced an e-government initiative in 1993, the Internet has been widely recognized as a key medium for communication between government and citizens(Choo & Park, 2011). E-diplomacy provides new means for conducting diplomacy through internet and ICT’s which plays a very vital role in today’s international relations. Diplomacy as a practice has been changing across the world and through time. It has become very important in the conduct of International Relations.

According to The U.S. Foreign Secretary Henry Kissinger, “France had introduced a modern approach to International Relations under Cardinal Richelieu and it was based on the theory of Nation States and was guiding by National Interest as being the ultimate purpose of any state.” Also, when we talk about eighteenth and nineteenth-century diplomatic practices became more complex and spread throughout the globe as a result of the multilateral nature of issues and structures in the International arena. Large scale destruction had engulfed Europe during the early twentieth century and that gave rise to multilateralism in diplomatic practices. Institutions like League Of  Nations and later after the second world war, the United Nations was founded and with the passage of time, as the colonial structure started eroding across Asia, Middle East, America, and Africa, more and more nations started getting introduced to various diplomatic practices and these were hence widely followed.  In recent times, technology and various innovations have reached new heights. Earlier to send a diplomatic message people had to travel far and wide, and the diplomat in the foreign nation was completely dependent on himself to manage the affairs of the state and in matters relating to foreign policy, the public had no say as there was no means for direct communication. 

Diplomacy with the help of technological advances has made it very transparent for the general public. Earlier the Catholic Church used to maintain its hegemony over the written word which gave it an advantage in gathering intelligence within Europe but the practice was soon eroded. As the printing press was invented, this democratized information and also diplomacy developed along with this development. Soon because of technology the entire process of nation building and foreign policy became a highly democratic symbol of the new world. 

However, there were many who criticized the role of technology in diplomacy. When British foreign minister, Lord Palmerston received his first telegram in the 1840’s he thought that it was the end of diplomacy. But the contrary has happened as diplomacy has not just survived but it has thrived through technology. There are certain alterations in the world of a diplomat with the embracing of technology in the making of foreign policy. Still, it is generally accepted that the use of technology has weakened the independence of diplomatic representatives from their ministry of foreign affairs. Although, many of the technological innovations have influenced diplomacy they haven’t challenged the core nature of diplomatic procedures.

Social media acts as a medium for foreign policy makers to reach all over the globe while making it accessible to governments at the same time so that they can act instantly upon it. Twitter helps in creating and broadcasting news and opinions that too with only 140 characters in a simple manner which helps in furthering the foreign policy goals. Though one cannot ignore the potential threats or risks of this new age technology due to its wide exposure, it certainly has many positive effects as it brings the citizens and its government closer. It has two major positive effects, firstly, it fosters an exchange of ideas between the policy makers and well as the citizens and also it gives the diplomat a platform  Twitter has two big to enhance their ability to gather information and to analyse, manage and react to events.

Historical Background – The road to the use of technology in US public diplomacy

From the very beginning, Americans have established the use of technology in promoting their national image and influence all over the world. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were both skilled scientists who showed the world with their invention of technology to carry messages. From 1935, Woodrow Wilson sent his 14 points to the most notable American newspaper known as Wireless File which was sent to every US diplomatic post.

The US Public Diplomacy got more technologically advanced with the start of a radio broadcast with the show “Voice of America.” It brought a new wave in America as it became fast media to communicate with the world. During the cold war technology played a vital role as the US shared its technology with its allies. It provided its ally states with the acquisition of television and later computer got introduced as well which enhanced the prestige of the US in front of the world. Hence, providing it with a higher status than the other nations and making US superior and dominant world power.

During Reagan’s presidency, the USA had both the budget and the skilled experts in order to develop the technology. Reagan’s close friend Charles Z. Wick started a huge technological investment. Satellite television become the best-known step taken by Wick, he launched “world net” it was a step forward in order to give the feed according to the regions to all the US embassies around the world. This initiative helped in connecting the local journalists to the politics which included special press conferences in embassies. By the end of Reagan’s presidency, computers became far more developed and the usage became common. It had several centralized data banks and information which resulted in connecting technology with the headquarters and straight to the public. A new form of public diplomacy was taking shape in the United States. The George H.W. Bush presidency witnessed more upgrades in the technological world which were directly linked with the headquarters and this field was known as US – Infonet but until Clinton’s era, the field was directly then linked to the public. The US soon understood the exchange field and its unique potential of the technology to maintain virtual communities and links with other countries and also the public.

After the terrorist attack of 9/11, US diplomacy got a brutal wakeup call which resulted in the new Secretary of State, Colin Powell to establish a whole new office and department of E-Diplomacy which had the most skilful technicians and Foreign Service personnel. Its purpose was basically to digitalize the working of the United States. In 2003, the US started focussing on E diplomacy and Public diplomacy which used the power of the internet to communicate with the local public and Americans in a locally branded product. The first virtual consulate was launched in Yekaterinburg, Russia which was the expansion of US advisory commission on public diplomacy to offer helpful ground rules. The US came up with an innovative and interactive digital website with the Arab world called www.Opendialogue.org which operated with the counsel of American Muslim understanding. Basically, it invited all the Muslims from the world to share their personal experiences of the United States and its citizens.

President Obama’s presidency was very different from George Bush. While Bush policy focused more on elections and military invasions, he believed in a more bottom-up approach and good use of technology to influence the decisions around the globe. A prime example of this is the policy adopted by the state department during Obama’s rule to promote the use off twitter in Iran. In fact, the use of Twitter was so essential for the Iranian reformed movement that the state department asked Twitter to change its scheduled maintenance in order o stop Twitter from shutting down its website which was supposed to happen on the fourth day of the Iranian protests. Then, twitter reschedules its maintains to one thirty am Iranian time, which is a middle of the day in the U.S. and therefore, the prime time for American twitting so that t does not disrupt the Iranian users. With Trump becoming the president of the United States, twitter diplomacy is at its peak right now. The use of technology especially twitter used by Trump would be further critically analyzed in this paper.

Twitter and Trump

Donald Trump has been very vocal about his opinions and his thoughts and that is certainly risky for the United States especially with his frequent use of Twitter. Despite the fact that Twitter has been considered as the most important social media website in order to conduct informal diplomatic exchanges with various world leaders and foreign governments. It is supposed to be used with caution as it can reflect greatly upon on foreign policy of a nation. And trumps highly opinionated tweets carry weight and greatly affect the image of the United States in front of the entire International community. Also, Trumps style of diplomacy s highly unexpected, for example, his offer of a summit to the North Koreans was completely unexpected and his decisions to suspend joint military exercises with the South Koreans. Twitter is used as a vehicle by Donald Trump in which he controls each and every opinion without having to cross check with the state department diplomats.

On 13th June 2018, President Trump tweeted “Just Landed- a long trip, but anybody can now feel a much safer than I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea; meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and a very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!”  Even though he is very transparent and open to the public with Twitter as a way of communication, he seems to reject the idea of multilateralism. It appears that he believes that the United States can no longer project his power through multilateral Institutions like G7 or the United Nations. Instead, he prefers one on one deal or bilateral discussion with like-minded leaders.

Another example of Trumps Twitter diplomacy can be seen in his administration communication with the Palestinian officials, Jason Greenblatt. Trump aids began diplomacy through twitter with Palestinian officials after a year of silence; there had been a breakdown of communication with Trump administration since United States President recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Since January 2019, Jason Greenblatt has been reaching out to the Palestinian leaders through his tweets. However, The Palestinian officials have not responded yet and due to this United States have cut down all aid and funding to the Palestinian security forces which are essential for maintaining the peace in the area. Palestinian leaders have criticized Trump’s style of diplomacy by saying that “Twitter diplomacy is the triumph of narrow minds, anaemic intellectuals and minuscule attention spawns, precluding thorough and responsible analytic critical interactions that are honest, contextual and insightful. We are witnessing global ramifications of this failure.” The United States has however through its tweets made an invitation to the Palestinian leaders to come and discuss the peace plan in the White House.

India’s Twitter Diplomacy

Twitter diplomacy is not just common to the United States but has been widely used in India as well especially after the NDA government under Prime Minister Modi came to power. Narendra Modi is the third most followed leader on Twitter in the world and Sushma Swaraj is the most followed foreign Minister in the world. The Indian foreign ministry of external affairs has made the most use of #Hashtagdiplomacy in order to connect with citizens in situations of distress, facilitating visas, helping foreign nationals or connecting with foreign leaders. India is among a few countries that have top diplomats and all its missions highly active on Twitter. Prime minister Modi is also the most followed leader in Asia and effectively uses social media platforms to announce his visits to foreign countries and talks and as well takes a suggestion from people’ on various concerns. Earlier Indian diplomacy was a part of a very conservative and protective life but now it has transformed itself and become very active and as well as interactive.

Ministry of External Affairs has been successful in creating a mechanism wherein less than 24 hours, the action begins on all the issues taken by people and is sorted out. All the grievances are handled with utmost urgency and resolved in no time, this has created a sense of transparency in diplomacy and also created an environment which has empowered people, removed red tapism and made grievances redressal faster.

Michael Kugelman, a senior associate for South Asia at the Woodrow Wilson centre told the Quartz India magazine “People feel empowered about the thought that if you find yourself in a difficult situation abroad you can send a tweet to your foreign minister, embassy asking for help- with the very real expectation that they will respond and help you.” Indian Foreign minister has been successful in this aspect.

Sushma Swaraj has a 24/7 active office on Twitter itself where she helps Indians as well as foreigners. She has a record of responding in no time, sometimes be at 2 am or 4 am. Sushma Swaraj tweeted “Even if you are stuck on the Mars, Indian embassy will be there to help you.”

She also uses Twitter to deliver certain political messages to foreign nations, sometimes extending a hand of friendship and other times rebuking them the way she did to Pakistan foreign advisor to Sartaj Aziz. Social Media has been used effectively to reach out to the government, The Indian government’s fast action in matters such as the rescue mission in Yemen or saving the stranded Indian seafarers in UAE or bringing back abducted Indians show the Indian success story of effectively using social media platforms.

Social Media especially twitter has been effective in conducting foreign relations with various nations around the world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi uses twitter to directly connect with foreign Ministers in an informal setup, he tweeted in Japanese to connect with Shinzo Abe, he congratulated Israeli Pm, Benjamin Netanyahu in Hebrew and got a response back which was in Hindi. He shared selfies with Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull in Delhi Metro. Therefore, twitter diplomacy has become the new face of Indian diplomacy which is fast and effective, approachable and transparent. 

Conclusion

‘Speaking directly to citizens – seeing a country’s people, as well as its government – is not just a rhetorical device’, explained Professor Slaughter of Princeton University.

It is a way to help make diplomacy more efficient, more inclusive, and more engaging. It has certainly shaken the diplomatic elite and forced all traditional players to adopt a more open approach in which listening becomes as important as acting.

Social media training for diplomats becomes more and more important as governments try to adapt to less-structured environments and less-traditional ways of conducting diplomacy. Training diplomats in the use of digital diplomacy channels is a way for governments to fully embrace present and future opportunities provided by the Internet and social media. ‘The potential results would be more transparency in governance, a government agenda that is better informed by direct citizen input, and a more informed, globally aware populace’, reads a recent report by the World Economic Forum.

Better training and the ‘smarter’ use of tools like Twitter produces a positive impact on how diplomacy works. At the same time it creates the resources, education, and much-needed skills to access and participate in the free flow of reliable and useful information while empowering diplomats and foreign policy players with the ability to make considered decisions about a nation’s economic, social, and political existence.

The goal, for the United States in the aftermath of September 11, 2012, and for all governments engaging in digital diplomacy, is to ensure an open dialogue but still be engaging, offering the true position of a government’s agenda. The risks are always going to be present, but a responsible way to engage, yet political with strong assertions, must be pursued at all times

Indeed, the social media revolution has been changing the way we see the world and has been changing the way we talk to the world. Not only it has made easier for governments and ambassadors to engage with the public, both foreign and at home, it has made everybody more aware of the effects – both positive and negative – a single word, tweet, Facebook comment, video, or image can have in a relatively short timeframe. Not only that, it has emphasized the need to strengthen the way we analyze social media.

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