Digital diplomacy – definition and challenges

How does diplomacy cope with the digital age? Does it successfully address the challenges of the digital revolution? Does it seem to you that the term digital diplomacy is increasingly present? In this article I will try to bring closer the concept of digital diplomacy and to provide you with an answer to the challenge of its definition.

The US State Department defines it as the statecraft of the 21st century. Even the greatest contemporary experts agree on the fact that the issue is much more complex, not daring to offer a single definition. What is indisputable is that diplomacy has evolved through the centuries and continues to do so, striving to keep pace with new trends in the digitized world of the Internet and social networks.

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It is particularly interesting to follow the process in which digital diplomacy is diverging from the discrete methods almost bordering with the covert operations, to enter into the field of openness and online communications. Messages that were commonly exchanged in private, far away from the eyes of the public, are increasingly moving to Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat or Weibo in China. Diplomats of foreign countries communicate with the citizens of the host country, directly by responding to the tweets and Facebook comments. Public diplomacy has introduced completely new tools.

A cursory look at the search results yields numerous definitions of this phenomenon. The definitions are offered by experts, governments and media. Thus, one presents digital diplomacy as the use of the Internet and new information technologies in order to achieve diplomatic goals, naming it differently – eDiplomacy.

The problem is compounded when new terms are introduced in the range of observation, which are connected to digital diplomacy but essentially representing a broader approach. We cannot avoid here the “Cyber diplomacy”, a term which combined with eDiplomacy, is often used as a synonym to define the concept. Cyber is related to computers, information and virtual reality. “Digital” is a game of numbers 0 and 1, present in the software of most of our mobile and computing devices. In this context it would be interesting to see how the concept of digital diplomacy fits into the “Internet Governance” and “eGovernment”.

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Mr. Ilan Manor, one of Israel’s leading experts in the field of digital diplomacy, referring to this matter, determines that there are two schools of thought: the first that is identical to the definition we have already cited and the second which claims that digital diplomacy increases the ability to interact with the foreign public and that active communication with it provides transition from monologue to dialogue. He however concludes that the true definition is somewhere in between and it includes both sides.

Digital diplomacy, can be used effectively not just for foreign policy analysis, attracting foreign investors, national branding (management and improvement of the image) and communicating national interests but and in particular – for crisis communications.

I personally consider it a new paradigm of traditional diplomacy, one of its segments that theory and practice define as public diplomacy. To be more specific, I would define it as the digital embodiment of the soft power, much wider than simple linking of terse texts and statements offered by regional state accounts with the “official gazette” syndrome.

But I will speak about it another time.

Zoran Sokić, @solisio

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