The Philippines and the United Arab Emirates are the closest friends in the Facebook world. Serbia is among Austria’s best friends. Georgia and Russia are good friends as well! A map of more (or less) expected Facebook friendship is available at the Mapping of the World’s Friendship. The level of friendship for each country is calculated by the number of Facebook friends people have abroad.
It is not surprising that, to a large extent, the Facebook friendship map mirrors the map of flow of remittances, monies that migrants send back home. Many Philippines work in the UAE, many Serbs work in Austria, and many Georgians work in Russia. They use Facebook to stay in touch with their families and friends back home.
Is this map an early example of what could be called ‘invisible geopolitics’? Thousands of books and articles have been written on traditional geopolitics counting missiles, tanks, and soldiers. The calculus of geopolitical relations usually includes GDP, trade structure, and population, among others. Recently, geopolitics started shifting from military (hard power) to soft power focusing on winning the hearts and minds of people worldwide. Public diplomacy, or ‘propaganda’, as described by realists, has mainly used broadcasting to reach out to people abroad. After the end of the Cold War, CNN shaped the opinions of millions worldwide. In the last few decades, the most notable example of soft power has been the influence of Al Jazeera on the Arab world.
Social media has brought many novelties. Some, such as Alec Ross, see it as extension of traditional geopolitics. He describes the US diplomatic social media network as a ‘global media empire’. (Note: The Economist mis-attributed a quote to Alec Ross).
A more profound impact of social media comes to the fore when we try to understand the emotions and affections of people worldwide. Social media can help us to better understand the Arab street, the Finish Sauna and the Balkans kafana (café) – places where it is possible to put your finger on the pulse of the nation, removed from proclamations and political rhetoric. Understanding the emotions of nations is extremely important. For example, the echoing word in discussions on economic crisis is ‘trust’. The recent Islamic movie crisis shows how emotions can move millions and create real security threats.
Another example of emotions and invisible governance is the voting at the Eurovision song contest. Year by year, the voting pattern for the best European song repeats itself. Greeks vote for Cyprus and vice versa. Moldovans vote for Romanians. Switzerland votes for Albania or Serbia depending on the enthusiasm shown by these two big ex-pat communities when it comes to SMS voting. As a few research studies show, the Eurovision is a showcase of emotions and empathy among nations. The quality of the songs is secondary.
In this increasingly interdependent world, politicians and diplomats will have to pay more attention to invisible geopolitics. Facebook friendships (possible likes/dislikes), Twitter exchanges, the level of Internet traffic, the flow of remittances – all these could be as important as, for example, military alliances and other indicators of traditional geopolitics.