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Twiplomacy: Worth Praising, but with Caution

Oct 18, 2012

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The use of Twitter as a diplomatic tool fits in nicely with the new sense of political empowerment that has accompanied the rise of social media. As Internet connectivity rates continue to grow (particularly through the rapidly expanding availability of smartphones), Twitter helps foster an unprecedented sense of community among members of global publics.

Members of these communities expect to participate in – not be mere bystanders to – formulation and implementation of policy. People are tired of policymakers telling them, “This is how we are affecting your lives,” and having no way to respond or connect with others who might feel the same way. Twitter and other social media give people a venue to talk back to the powerful, and to build communities of interest.

Policymakers ignore this phenomenon at their peril. Particularly since the events in the Arab world beginning in 2011, a feeling of intellectual entitlement has taken hold quickly. Activists (a term now encompassing a vastly enlarged, social-media-enabled constituency) expect dialogue, not dicta. So, when the U.S. State Department, to cite one example, uses Twitter to communicate with the world, it had better be prepared to sustain the conversation.

Numerous governments are enthusiastically Tweeting on a daily basis, joining the ranks of individuals, non-governmental organizations, and other political players who have embraced this tool. But this is happening with little understanding of network dynamics. Where does the information go? What responses does it elicit within the network that the original source (e.g., a government) is not aware of? For all their willingness to plunge into the world of networks, governments remain hierarchic in structure, and often do not recognize the paths that information may take and the transformations that may occur to it within networks. All this is to say that governments using Twiplomacy need to better understand where their information is going. Only with that knowledge can policymakers comprehend the effects their social-media products may have.

One more cautionary note: Tweeting, per se, has little value – content is what matters. Some diplomats’ Tweets are like those of movie stars, offering bits of personal information that might make them seem less distant, but have little value in advancing diplomatic goals. Again, a maturation process is underway, with Twiplomats (a terrible word) still learning how to maximize the value of social media. This will take some time.

Overall, Twiplomacy helps reduce barriers between policymakers and those affected by policy. This is useful, but it profoundly alters the DNA of diplomacy, and that deserves far more study than it has so far received.

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1 COMMENT(S)

Thanks for the nice article.I

Thanks for the nice article.I have couple of question thought of asking.As i am computer professonal and doing my masters In international relations.I am very fond of diplomacy and therefore exploring the world of "Diplomacy" turned "Twiplomacy".
I daily see tweets of diplomats as well as govt officials.And most of the time the tweet reflects writers personal grudge towards the policy,which is no-way related to diplomacy.I am eager to know that what is the measurement of twiplomacy impact on foreign policy of any country? Is there any instances where it has been proved fruitful and due to public comments or angernes govt has made any changes? I see twitter,facebook are the tools of public diplomacy ,which is the 21st century gift to society,however what impacts it makes is still a question of debate and discussion.
You mentioned it would reduce the barrier between two nations.But has it happend and possible ? i think,it is difficult to say, in fact it has increased the barrier incident such as "innoncents of muslims" video on youtube , spreaded like wildfire and peoples,particulary muslims,across the globe protested heavily.In a way this degraded US image in the eyes of muslim world.Internet does not have boundery.the moment we connect to internet we become global citizens,but the next moment we disconnect we become local- by thought too and think the same our govts thinks.Then how would it be justifiable to say that it would inform-though it does and influence the relations between states.I think it would to an extent help to share their views but does goverments takes this as a serious note is hard to say and hence,its just a buzzword.

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