Social Media antithesis of Traditional Diplomacy?

May 21, 2012 § 1 Comment

Writing last week on Carnegie Endowment’s Digital Diplomacy forum, I called the social media the antithesis of diplomacy. I was speaking primarily about the clashing images – social media being fast and breaking things a la Fackbook’s motto and diplomacy moving slowly and cautiously. Wondering if the ambivalence of social media has more to do with what type of diplomacy we are referring to: (old) traditional diplomacy or (new) public diplomacy?

Both types of diplomacy, as the recent events between China and the US demonstrate over the Chinese dissident illustrate, are necessary. However, they operate using different communication methods and media. Traditional diplomacy, especially those aspects dealing with sensitive negotiations, place a premium on interpersonal communication. This preference for interpersonal contact may explain some of the resistance. Yet, while the new media may be the antithesis of traditional diplomacy, social media appears to be the requisite NEW tool for the NEW diplomacy.

For the new diplomat, or what Daryl Copeland calls the “guerrilla diplomat,” the front lines of diplomacy today have moved from the private, cosseted corridors of power to the people power of the streets.

“Today’s diplomatic encounters tend to take place publicly and cross-culturally: in a barrio or a souk, in an internet chat room or a blog, on main street or in a Quonset hut set astride the wire in a conflict zone.” — Daryl Copeland, Guerrilla Diplomacy

This new image of the people’s diplomat mirrors that described by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her Foreign Affairs piece last December. To operate effectively in such a rich social, public context requires new tools and approach. As Ambassador Sarukhan said during #digidiplomacy, diplomats now must be nimble, quick, and agile.

Yet, in using these new tools, diplomacy may be also further transformed. Communication tools are not neutral content vessels, but transform the user in the way that they are used. Hence, the significance of Ambassador Sarukhan’s follow-up observation on the move to atomization in diplomacy.

CarnegieEndow : @Arturo_Sarukhan: I think social media will atomize the authority, role, and profile of ambassadors and embassies #DigiDiplomacy

Rather than clashing, the new social media and the new public diplomat may be co-evolving – one shaping the other in 21st century diplomacy.  As they evolve, rather than being leery of social media, public diplomats will have to become more skilled at incorporating and creatively expanding its relational, networking and collaborative public diplomacy capabilities.

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