A Diplomatic Facelift

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Written by Samantha Thorne

Washington, DC—For almost a decade now, social media has stepped in to erase traditional diplomacy’s wrinkles, masterfully negating diplomacy’s aging process and ensuring its longevity. Digital diplomacy, its youthful manifestation, uses platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to increase international dialogue between heads of states, governments, foreign ministries and their accompanying institutions. The most recent Twiplomacy Study analyzes social media’s increasing role in international relations, affirming that modern-day diplomacy encompasses much more than formal face-to-face interactions.

This Year’s Report

This year’s Twiplomacy report evaluates world leaders’ social media influence, effectiveness and connectedness. As 97 percent of all 193 UN member states—represented by foreign ministers and heads of state and government—have official Twitter accounts (compared to Facebook’s 93 percent and Instagram’s 81 percent) the study affirms that “Twitter is the key channel of communication for digital diplomacy.” The amount of represented UN member Twitter accounts increased from 178 to 187 accounts following last year’s study. As diplomats’ presence and interactions on Twitter have grown, so has the platform’s importance in global affairs.

“Governments that do not allocate sufficient resources to their digital communications and social media channels risk being left behind and left out of the global digital diplomacy movement,” the report states.

Trump Twiplomacy

President Trump has altered the dynamics of digital diplomacy. As one of the few world leaders to personally tweet himself, the U.S. president uses his own @realDonaldTrump account rather than the established @POTUS account to “bypass traditional media outlets” and stun the world—all while applying his signature Twitter brazenness. His mass following, exceeding 52 million followers and vast number of retweets earned President Trump the title of “Most Influential World Leader on Twitter” with the amount of platform interactions serving as the title’s primary metric.

The report also keys in on the @realDonaldTrump’s tone. Disrupting diplomacy’s traditionally courteous approach to interacting with fellow leaders and their countries, Mr. Trump has assailed allies on the platform. Noting that “the undiplomatic use of Twitter by the U.S. president presents unprecedented challenges to traditional diplomacy,” the report highlights the complex interplay and tiptoeing tactic that leaders now experience when communicating with each other via Twitter.

Victims of President Trump’s hardline tweets, such as Prime Ministers Justin Trudeau and Theresa May, largely avoid Twitter debacles and respond through other means. This is due to the scope of President Trump’s Twitter presence and the nature of the countries’ alliance. However, that is not to say that the U.S. president is immune to Twitter flack. Rather, leaders from the French Foreign Ministry, Botswana, El Salvador and Chile have all confronted the U.S. president via the social media platform for his statements and actions. Leaders may additionally confront Mr. Trump, but refer to him as @POTUS rather than @realDonaldTrump, to align with the U.S. State Department’s guidelines regarding official and private social media accounts.

World Leaders in the Twittersphere

Diplomacy has become multidimensional with Twitter’s added involvement. World leaders now apply humor, emojis and graphics to their tweets when interacting with both each other and their fellow citizens. The report highlights the UK Foreign Office, Italy’s Embassy in Washington, the Belgian Foreign Ministry, the German Foreign Ministry and French President Emmanuel Macron as masterful tweeters, coupling humor with tech savvy to engage a global audience online. Calling attention to President Macron, the report shows that he “made a dazzling appearance on the Twittersphere in 2017.” By being up-to-date on the platform’s services and recruiting a social media team to livestream his speeches and public appearances using Periscope, the report recognized Emmanuel Macron as a rising Twitter star.

Platform capabilities of following, liking and retweeting has made diplomacy electronically nuanced, with seemingly inconsequential and minute actions carrying more diplomatic gravity. World Leaders are ranked as “Most Influential,” “Most Effective,” “Best Connected,” “Most Active” and “Most Conversational” based on their average amounts of comments, retweets, mutual peer connections, daily tweets and @replies, respectively. Twitter provides world leaders, not historically in the limelight, with a venue to garner their prominence on the global stage.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro is one such example. He is considered Twiplomacy’s tenth most influential leader and his account is the most mentioned world leader Twitter account. Additionally, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry is “the most prolific government account,” topping the “Most Active” Twitter account list by posting an average of 55 tweets daily over the past year. Venezuela has put in the work on Twitter to increase its international presence and influence, showing that a stronger online presence can supplement their traditional diplomatic interactions.

Onward into Digital Diplomacy

Digital diplomacy has paradoxically complicated and streamlined international relations. As Twitter fosters interconnectedness, relationships between countries can alter at the click of a button or press of a key, to some extent. Though some view this phenomenon in a negative light and too informal a setting for important conversations, Twitter and social media do not replace traditional diplomacy—they simply modernize it. The advent of social media has dissolved communicative barriers and obstructions to political transparency all while giving voice to not only world leaders, but the public at large.