Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

The forward march of e-diplomacy paused…?

Published on 16 September 2013
Updated on 05 April 2024

Poll on attitudes to e-diplomacy post-Snowden: to the right of this blog is a poll to help us gauge the impact of the continuing events triggered by Edward Snowden’s leaks to the UK Guardian about the kind of social sharing we didn’t want. I think our e-diplomacy Hype Cycle needs updating to take account of the tumultuous period we’re passing through, especially when seen from an e-diplomacy perspective. We first wrote about the Hype Cycle in June 2012 but consider:

The revelations about surveillance of online media by the US NSA and other security services 

Diplomats, of all people, will largely have been unsurprised at the news, since they’re likely have known a great deal about intelligence flows. The jury seems still to be out on the question of the longer term impact of Snowden’s leaks, including in terms of e-diplomacy. However it’s an interesting indicator that Facebook and Amazon are pursuing their Government in court to be allowed to tell the world their own narrative about the events, clearly alarmed by the potential impact on their global businesses.

We don’t know of any data on attitudes of diplomats to e-diplomacy following the revelations, so we are posting a poll on this page, to the right of this blog post. We’d also be interested in any more information you can give us following your vote, in the comments section below, telling us how and why your views have changed – or not. 

Questions about social media, broadcast media and public opinion

How social media led U.S. astray in Egypt is an interesting re-evaluation of the place of social media in the formation of a mainstream media consensus on rapidly-changing, politically charged events such as those taking place in Egypt and Syria. It suggests that the challenge to traditional journalism from Twitter et al, allied to the cost-cutting endemic in the intensely competitive media-scape, meant that audiences in the US, including many in senior positions, were unduly influenced by ‘reporters’ who identified and bonded with the social-media-smart, middle-class activists rather than by the traditionally cynical or  sceptical old-style, gnarled foreign correspndents. In a similar vein, Christopher R. Hill, former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, wrote eloquently about the ‘Limits of Twiplomacy’, arguing that the formation of relationships remains at the heart of statecraft, something for which Twitter et al can only be of marginal benefit and may actually be damaging. There are many, of course, who continue to argue that the Information Revolution (there’s a Twentieth Century term which is due a re-evaluation) and it’s nephew eDiplomacy, is changing, “the goals, means and character of diplomacy”. This may be true but not a completely positive trend.

Questions about the longer-term impact of our increasingly digital culture

There is a constant stream of evidence and polemic about the wider and longer-term negative impact of our engagement online with social media and with other elements of the web-economy such as Amazon.com. For example, one of the rare solid-seeming pieces of evidence about activity in social media suggests that it makes us envious and gloomier. Jonathan Franzen, the leading US author, has recently written a trenchant analysis about deeper and more dangerous trends associated with our digital culture and economy. Franzen joins those who inveigh against the decline in the kind of contentration and focus implied in the writing and reading of novels – related in many ways kind to the activity involved in long-term relationship building highlighted by Hill as an essential diplomatic skill – brought about by what I’ve called our McKsnack digital culture. Franzen also discusses the economic impact of Amaxon’s colonisation of the literary world, an important issue for those who believe diplomacy needs a solid, researched, well-written corpus of published material.

I am fascinated by the twists and turns in the interplay between hungry commercial giants online, the drive of technology to make itself legacy, and ourselves – the social animals who want to subvert the technology to serve our own ends. And part of the fascination is not being able to predict very far into the future, if at all. So please vote in the poll and give us some data to help us think and plan. 

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