Digital Diplomacy…is it worthwhile? What is the impact if any? Why even bother with digital diplomacy? And there are more questions than that as the U.S. and the UK lead the way in digital diplomacy. So what does digital diplomacy even mean? In short, it means a government putting out it’s foreign policy messages via social media channels, looking to engage in dialogue with the target countries. It’s not without some controversy and there are those who suggest it’s just a form of cultural export…
Digital Diplomacy is certainly an aspect of Soft Power, of which one element is cultural exports. Hard Power is the use of force, such as military elements deployed to project force to ensure a foreign power understands the threat and the potential of damage to them from the use of Hard Power. On the other hand, Soft Power is a complex set of tools ranging from embargoes through to exporting ones culture; such as Bollywood movies entering the Western entertainment field and American television being broadcast into European households. Or MacDonalds in many countries.
Digital Diplomacy is a new element of Soft Power. It enables countries that use it well, to reach an audience through social media channels that it might not otherwise reach. By the US State Department and the UK’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) use of the same tools, they have the ability to project their foreign policy views into other countries. It also enables the average citizen of the U.S. or UK to participate in communicating the message of a government through their own choice. A prime example may be the diaspora of a country living in America sharing and discussing US foreign policy issues to people in their homeland.
As a result of this citizen to citizen (C2C) engagement, a foreign government can engage in dialogue and undermine a dictatorship or ensure a greater understanding of their objectives, bypassing the rhetoric of a totalitarian regime such as in Burma or Syria. It can also bolster the support of rebel groups, such as those in Syria, that a foreign country acknowledges their issues and mission.
The Best Part of Digital Diplomacy
Diplomacy is all about ideas, ideologies and views of how the world could be. Most importantly, when properly executed, digital diplomacy can help foster more open dialogue. When we understand each others views, opinions and concerns more clearly, we are less likely to seek conflict as a method of resolution. By the U.S. and UK and increasingly Norway and Sweden, use digital diplomacy by engaging in dialog through Twitter, blogs, Google+, Facebook and other tools, they provide a second viewpoint than that of a particular State.
When such engagements deepen the reach into civil society in a state of conflict or where the leaderships rhetoric is more violent in its intent, dialogue might more easily happen. This is a good thing. As long as people are talking, there is less chance of violent outcomes. Social Media tools enable an opportunity to engage civil societies in more dialogue. That can’t be a bad thing can it?