There is no doubt, argues Westcott 2008, that technology inventions have always profoundly impacted international relations. The point being throughout technological inventions such as the telegraph in the 19th century, followed by aeroplane, radio and television in the 20th century and the internet over the last 25 or so years, diplomats have found how they interact, change. The change however, has not just been on how interaction is conducted but how the content of information interacted is stored.
Historically information between diplomats, their host nation and their ‘sending’ state used diplomatic bags, secured under diplomatic immunity from search and seizure pursuant to Article 27 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Rarely would anyone know least all of the public, other than the intended recipient(s) what information was contained in the diplomatic bag(s). That was the norm during the pre-internet era.
The internet era ushered in what the academia has termed ‘digital diplomacy’, with Jan Melissen and Jay Wang defining it as a way in which governments engage with one another and the public, using modern technologies which includes social media.Simply put Digital Diplomacy is the increasing use of ICTs and social media platforms by a country in order to achieve its foreign policy goals and practice Public Diplomacy. It means diplomats of all ages find themselves with a new, fascinating and arguably quick modern way of communicating. But, is digital diplomacy as smooth and without significant challenges or problems? Furthermore, how well trained in its use are the people, in this instance, diplomats who are meant to use it? What safeguards do they have, that what they convey through the internet remain private or at least to be deemed as their private and not official thoughts? Do they know of the pitfalls and implications on their careers of this ‘brilliant’ new way of conducting diplomacy?
Difference of Generations
Perhaps the answer to some of the questions is found in understanding the approach and use of digital diplomacy by diplomats of different eras. A recent study by IIan Manor conducted over four different foreign ministries of four different states, proved that the use and understanding of digital diplomacy varied based on the ages of users. Manor suggests that the ability to effectively use, and fully understand the implications of internet use for diplomacy, is different between those he termed digital natives and digital immigrants. Digital natives natives are those people born and grew up in the digital age, mainly after 1980, these find it easier to employ and utilise digital technologies such as social media, and internet. Whereas digital immigrants are individuals born before 1980, during the analog period and have had to adapt to the digital environment. And this is where Hillary Clinton and Julian Assange come in. Who understands the internet or digital technology better between the two?
Events surrounding Hillary Clinton’s use of private email server during her time as Secretary of State betrays someone who, whilst able to use the internet and indeed advocated for digital diplomacy, lacked sound knowledge of how to protect herself online. Julian Assange a digital native, though born before 1980, but much later than Hillary Clinton probably using digital natives in his organisation Wikileaks exploited this ignorance by a digital immigrant, Hillary Clinton. Ms Hillary’s presidential ambitions now lie in the hands of digital natives as they bring into the public domain what she thought were private thoughts shared through digital technology. The information shared by her, deleted and believed hidden somewhere, has found its way into the public domain through the hands and knowledge of digital natives. Other senior diplomats of her age (digital immigrants) may start asking themselves, if after all digital diplomacy is their thing or whether they should leave that to digital natives.
Manor I, University of Oxford.
Melissen, J and Wang J, (2014). The Digital Diplomacy Bibliography, (https://www.clingendael.nl/publication/digital-diplomacy-bibliography-2014)
Westcott, N. (2008). Digital Diplomacy: The impact of the internet on International Relations, research report 16, July 2008, Oxford Internet Institute