September 19, 2012
Did you know that the United States State Department has a specially designated position for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Digital Strategy or that they have 10 official Twitter feeds (English, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, etc.)? This U.S. focus on digital networks and technologies to serve foreign policy goals has been called 21st Century Statecraft.
To meet these 21st century challenges, we need to use the tools, the new 21st century statecraft. …we find ourselves living at a moment in human history when we have the potential to engage in these new and innovative forms of diplomacy and to also use them to help individuals be empowered for their own development.
~ Secretary Of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
As the world continues to become increasingly interdependent and globalization swells, foreign relations and diplomacy mechanisms are changing in response. According to Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, the key to successful foreign policy in today’s world is networked diplomacy: “Managing international crises requires mobilizing international networks of public and private actors.” And this interconnected world is relying to an increasing degree on social media.
One example of the effectiveness of social media in diplomacy was reported in the Japan Times. In the summer of 2010, India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) became India’s first government department to start using Twitter. As the security situation in Libya continued to deteriorate, India became increasingly alarmed about the welfare of its citizens living there. MEA ultimately decided to use Twitter to communicate information concerning the evacuation schedule. The communication soon became two-way, with MEA receiving tweets about hundreds of Indians stranded at the port of Misratah, which was temporarily closed and thus beyond the reach of organized evacuation attempts. Thanks to this effective use of social media – where people and the government successfully connected in a highly time-sensitive situation – the Indians trapped in Misratah were ultimately evacuated.
Ambassadors and diplomats throughout the world are rapidly adopting Twitter, Facebook and other social media tools. Alec Ross, the State Department’s senior adviser on innovation, tells the many ambassadors who take a course on statecraft, “You only have one mouth but you have two ears, so use this as a way not just of communicating with the citizens of the country where you are serving, but also understanding the point of view of people who may not be sitting at a mahogany table inside the embassy.”
The Power of Social Media
Not too long ago, Twitter was thought of as a mere celebrity gossip tool and Facebook just a means for college kids to exchange party photos. It’s heartening to see the influence that social media is now having throughout the world. It is leveling the playing field, giving voice to so many who were previously silenced, providing real-time communications in often precarious circumstances, and allowing diplomats and citizens from around the world to exchange critical information.