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Public diplomacy

Published on 01 March 2010
Updated on 05 April 2024

How can diplomats make use of technology to improve their professional skills and communication? How do computer mediated communications affect diplomatic discourse?

What is the impact of a globalized and interactive media such as the Internet on public diplomacy? These are some of issues that will be discussed on this blog.

The use of technology in the field of diplomatic communication is not a new phenomenon. In fact, diplomats have traditionally been early adopters of new information and communications technologies, from the telegraph to the Internet. The Internet, however, has a greater impact when compared to other media, as it reduces the cost of instantaneous communication to practically zero. Because of this, States are encouraged to make more use of communication strategies – together with the traditional use of political, economical and military resources – to attain their goals in the international arena. Some, like David Rothkopf, even say that ‘the realpolitik of the new era is cyberpolitik’.

The use of Internet tools in diplomatic communication takes place with two main purposes. The first one is to improve the exchanges among professionals who work in the international arena. Information is at the heart of diplomatic activity and the Internet increases the speed of its circulation and the urgency of a reply. This poses new challenges for diplomats and requires them to develop new communication skills. On the other hand, adequate use of technology can also offer substantial support to the work of diplomatic offices overseas.

The second main use of the Internet in diplomatic communication is generally called public diplomacy. It is intended to explain the goals of a given foreign policy and to gather support, from the national audience and from foreign public opinion. Radio and television are traditional ways of conveying this kind of message, but the importance of the Internet is growing fast. Governments who stay out of the networks take the risk of being ignored in the international debate, especially by the younger generation.

The United States, for instance, seems to be convinced of the importance of the Internet on their public diplomacy strategy. They have launched a new plan, called public diplomacy 2.0. Their aim is to make use of the interactive potential of the Internet to listen and engage on debate with others, as it is believed that this will be the best way to spread democratic values. With controversial degrees of success, they have shifted their outreach campaigns to Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. But does this strategy take into account the cultural differences among the target audiences? This is another challenge e-diplomats will have to face.

We hope that this blog will help to shed some light on the challenging and fast evolving theme of e-diplomacy. We welcome your insights, comments and suggestions and we would like to invite you to join this new community of people interested in the implications of the Internet on diplomacy, policy and participation.

4 replies
  1. Vladimir Radunovic
    Vladimir Radunovic says:

    “digital inclusion” — May
    “digital inclusion” — May 28, 2010 by Anonymous —
    I agree with Efe that we need to be careful not to overuse online communication tools or apply them to inappropriate contexts or audiences.
    We have found that digital works best when not used in isolation. Ideally, the invitations to audiences to engage- and the subsequent conversations- need to be co-ordinated with press or broadcasting activity, and possibly face to face meetings. Here’s an example of the latter on my blog. And here is a case study of how we have worked in conjunction with niche online communities to maximise participation from highly targeted audiences on the theme of the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan.

  2. Vladimir Radunovic
    Vladimir Radunovic says:

    “Interactive PD and Offline
    “Interactive PD and Offline Participation” — March 28, 2010 by Efe —
    Public diplomacy 2.0 demonstrates how communication technologies might be used, misued, and overused in international communication, I would say.
    There are several great examples where new online communication platforms are used in order to engage with the public (as part of overall public diplomacy works). Coming back to Ginger’s point, we have witnessed several cases where e-diplomacy didn’t involve listening. Yet, I am quite optimistic about the impacts of new communication technologies on public diplomacy. We are able to communicate in a faster way – and we don’t need expensive equipment or expert knowledge of complex machines. All we need is a computer connected to the internet.
    My only fear, let me say, is the overuse of online communication tools in public diplomacy. Although internet provides us unprecedented communication opportunities, it cannot replace all other existing platforms, including mass media and face-to-face/personal communication. I see e-public diplomacy as a great way to start new public diplomacy projects and communicating as well as to strengthen the ties between societies.

  3. Vladimir Radunovic
    Vladimir Radunovic says:

    “Public diplomacy and
    “Public diplomacy and interactivity” — March 16, 2010 by Marília Maciel —
    This is a very good point. In fact, there is a general perception that public diplomacy will not work properly in an interactive media such as the Internet without an interactive communication. It is not enough to transpose traditional strategies used in one-to-many channels of communications, such as television, to the Internet. Public diplomacy has to adjust and innovate.
    This is exactly what the US is trying to accomplish with their Public Diplomacy 2.0 strategy. According to their plan, interactivity is the greatest weapon against terrorism, since terrorist ideologies would not stand to be scrutinized in a pluralistic debate. Web 2.0 is seen an important way to keep young people away from terrorist groups in the Middle East. Would this actually happen? Will countries be open not only to debate, but to actually communicate in a culturally diverse environment? That still remains to be seen.

  4. Vladimir Radunovic
    Vladimir Radunovic says:

    “Public Diplomacy or Twitter
    “Public Diplomacy or Twitter Publicity?” — March 4, 2010 by Ginger —
    I like your clear definitions of diplomacy, but in practice, it seems that much “public diplomacy” is comprised of “Twitter press releases”… short publicity bites by savvy politicians. Is that “diplomacy”? Of course, I am an advocate for participation (and therefore e-participation) so I would like to see public diplomacy or… public e-diplomacy… to be a two-way street, where someone on the other end of that Tweet is actually “listening” (or reading).
    DipNote recently tweeted: ” Rather than me keep telling you things, you all should tell me what you’d like to ask SHRC and I’ll try to get you answers.”
    I think there should me more “e-diplomacy” that listens… Does that still fit your definition of “public diplomacy”?


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