Hands of a guy on laptop keyboard

fHow has social media affected diplomatic reporting?

Published on 03 July 2013
Updated on 04 May 2024

Social media has taken the world by storm. Citizen journalists are increasing pressure on diplomats to deliver timely and accurate reporting of what is happening on the ground. A recent survey of 105 practising diplomats from five regions: Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia shows that the biggest impact social media has in terms of diplomatic reporting is making it more immediate and less formal.

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Cost effective67%19%14%

While a 2010 survey by DiploFoundation showed that 76% of respondents thought Diplomats should blog, some argued that ‘blogging is not compatible with the diplomatic function’. Stephen Hale of the UK FCO, did not agree. ‘A large part of what we do offline in the Foreign Office is engage and influence audiences in support of UK foreign policy goals. Diplomacy is not just about states talking to states. And often the issues we work on (like climate change or counter terrorism) can’t be solved by one state talking to another. The internet provides us with the means to engage and influence audiences all around the world. And blogs are one tool that diplomats can use to talk informally with their target audience about specific foreign policy issues.’

With the post-9/11 move in the US government from a ‘need to know’ to a ‘need to share’, the US Department of State became an example of one diplomacy machine that has embraced social media and is seeking to maximise existing tools to promote the sharing of information. It is not rocket science. ‘What better way to move an agency into need-to-share protocols than to integrate technology from the world’s leading authorities on need to share, namely social networking sites Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia’ (Khalid, 2011). In a non-exhaustive list of blogs compiled by Danielle Derbes for the June 2011 Foreign Service Journal, the Department of State lists 161 blogs and the UK’s FCO lists 47 active bloggers.

With public diplomacy coming more and more to the forefront as an international tool of engagement, social media has a huge part to play in diplomatic reporting. Whether diplomats use Twitter to get instant updates about what is happening on the street or to float an idea in cyberspace to informally sound out public opinion, this microblogging tool is rapidly become part of the diplomat’s reporting toolbox. It is interesting to note here that a distinction apparently needs to be made between the diplomat and the person. In which capacity are they tweeting or blogging? One case in point is that of former Indian diplomat Shashi Tharoor, who, in 2010, tweeted a rather innocuous message to his half-million or so followers: Dilemma of our age. Tough visa restrictions in hope of btr security or openness & liberality to encourage tourism & goodwill? I prefer latter. He made the front page news nationally for making a ‘big mistake in Indian politics: appearing to disagree publicly with his superiors on a delicate issue’.

Likewise with blogs. The diplomat’s prime objective is to promote and to pursue their country’s interests. Blogs written by themselves or by others can be a valuable source of information that often goes unreported in mainstream media. In a comment on Diplo’s online survey on whether diplomats should blog (DiploFoundation, 2010), Vladimir Radunovic cites a visit in 2009 to Serbia by then Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, a regular blogger. Bildt announced a last-minute visit to Belgrade on his blog, where he planned to meet with the Serbian President and the Foreign Minister. This visit coincided with the Butmir regional talks on the Balkans, while Sweden held the EU presidency. Yet the visit was never officially announced. This low-profile approach to the meeting was enhanced by the medium used to communicate its happening. As Radunovic puts it in his comment: it was ‘available to all as not being a secret; yet reaching only some, without drums and fuss’. This nuanced messaging is a key component of diplomatic reporting and it would seem that social media offers the perfect set of tools to carry it out.

In her next blog post, Mary Murphy examines the relationship between diplomats and diplomatic correspondents.

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6 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I found this report
    I found this report absolutely valuable and I share several readers and researchesrs to congratulate Mary for the same.Though I wish to add a concern to the report.To the best of my knowlege social media and its impact on diplomacy has spread fast.In terms of numbers and quantity its doing very well but when it comes to quality the growth has not been impressive.As such there could be a risk of manipluations in the course of time.I am now thinking of employings different qualitative tools in order to enrich the impact of social media.one option might be application of cognitive sciences in social media’s relationship with diplomacy.There are countries and societies that have been in the forefront of democracy and civilian society in their region and have in fact achieved some of their objectives but have soon returned to non-civilian regimes.Iran is one important case study for the subject.People are intelligent and freedom-loving and their efforts bear fruits but soon is lost.

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      I am reminded of a piece by
      I am reminded of a piece by Edward Bernays, in his book PROPAGANDA (https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/bernprop.html):

      “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Some interesting points – if
    Some interesting points – if how we communicate has changed/is changing then diplomacy like many other fields will have to adjust and evolve

    • Mary
      Mary says:

      Yes, Shelley-Ann, diplomacy
      Yes, Shelley-Ann, diplomacy isn’t immune from twenty-first century advancements in communications technology.

  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    Thanks for sharing, Cristina.
    Thanks for sharing, Cristina. Both make for interesting reading.

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    You might be interested in
    You might be interested in these articles I wrote:

    Archetti, C. (2012) “The Impact of New Media on Diplomatic Practice: An Evolutionary Model of Change,” The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 7(2): 181-206.
    Available online: https://tinyurl.com/kmwwsnj

    Archetti, C. (2013) “What Difference Do Advances in Communication Technologies Make to Diplomatic Practice? An Evolutionary Model of Change Based on the Experience of London Foreign Diplomats,” in Iver B. Neumann and Halvard Leira (eds) International Diplomacy (London: SAGE).
    Available online: https://tinyurl.com/ms4guby

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