The novel coronavirus caused fundamental changes in all fields, diplomacy wasn’t exempt. Summits, conferences and official meetings are postponed indefinitely, thus the role of the Internet and Information and Communications Technology (ICT) increased drastically.
What possible outcome Internet and ICT could have, is electronic diplomacy the future of the field or is it something we have to worry about?
Tom Fletcher, former British ambassador in Lebanon, puts the rhetorical question: “Would we have been better prepared for the Arab spring if we had discovered the hashtag #tahrir earlier?”
The Internet became part of diplomatic communication and has altered the practice of diplomacy. Today digital diplomacy is the essential part of foreign policy, powerful states are competing to influence in the same online space, as countries are advancing their foreign policy goals and extending international reach. Foreign ministries and embassies are part of online social networks in which information is disseminated, gathered and analyzed. E-diplomacy changed roles of diplomats, improving storage of office documents in the cloud and guarantees access from anywhere. According to the digital strategy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK, digital diplomacy has been found to be a crucial tool in the management of issues that surround foreign policies.
Digital technologies can be particularly useful in the field of consular activities, for communications during emergencies and disasters.
China, the powerhouse of the Asian economy, understands the importance of digital diplomacy, and implemented a policy called “Step Out, Welcome In”, for balancing out the international influence through social media.
Recent data analyses about the usage of social media by Foreign Affairs ministries, suggested that Foreign Ministries are more inclined towards using social media to attract and bridge the communication gap with foreign populations. According to the United States Digital Outreach Team, Twitter is the main influential driver impacting social and digital diplomacy in the US. Current President of the United States Donald Trump is notoriously well-known for his Tweets and informing society about serious issues via online platform Twitter.
Backslides of Internet and ICT include information leakage, hacking, and anonymity of Internet users. Diplomatic rivals, including both state and non-state actors (such as terrorist organisations), may try to hack into government systems and extract information of use to themselves. Hacking attack on the personal website of Yuli Edelstein, Israeli Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs and WikiLeaks outlines the risks and challenges implementing ICT. The increased likelihood of data loss or access to data by unauthorized parties increases the fears of implementing digital diplomacy. Maintaining confidentiality and privacy is also another major obstacle that could be caused by the implementation of digital diplomacy, as many items are classified, which might be interesting information to broadcast, therefore diplomats are not allowed to do so as the information is classified. Political factors are also influencing implementation of digital diplomacy, diplomats from politically unstable countries have greater difficulties carrying out their responsibilities, e-diplomacy projects require long-term financial support, the budget for ICT projects are usually limited.
The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Council.