140 signs are now enough to threaten, congratulate or create tensions between countries. A new form of diplomacy of the 21st century is emerging to dialogue with the giants of the Web. With the billions of smartphones in circulation, Heads of States have no choice: they are, in the first sense, “in the hands of peoples” and as such also subject to the influence of social networks (Twitter, Facebook…) and their digital immediacy.
At a time when Donald Trump is using unbridled Twitter and where the Pakistani Minister of Defense is using this same network to threaten Israel with a nuclear response (tweet since removed) after reading the article of a caricatural site, a new form of diplomacy is emerging (AWD, 2016).
We are now talking of “digital diplomacy” as a new vision of the management of international affairs which challenges the monopoly of diplomats, almost unique representatives in charge of the management of international political relations until recently. In the digital age, foreign policy emerges from the shadows and uses these new channels so far from the quiet lounges of embassies and international organisations.
It is impossible to describe this notion of digital diplomacy without citing two Twitter accounts that regularly make headlines: @realDonaldTrump and @Potus. Sometimes as “Donald Trump”, sometimes as President of the United States, Donald Trump continues to bypass the classic media and diplomatic channels by making Twitter his main media of influence. He posts all kinds of messages: announcements: “I will be making the announcement of my Vice President pick on Friday at 11am in Manhattan” (Tweet 13th July 2016); scathing denials: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me” (Tweet 11th January 2017); or even diplomatic messages such as this tweet to Vladimir Putin sent a few hours after Obama’s decision to expel Russian diplomats from the United States while his Russian counterpart refused to yield to the same movement mood: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” (Tweet 30th December 2016).
No one can deny today that Trump’s winning wager is largely due to the fact that he broke the codes of political communication by freeing himself from the classical media in favour of this language of 140 signs. It remains to be seen whether this new diplomatic grammar, characterized by its conciseness, spontaneity and provocation, will become a new norm or an exception, as China wished to remind the new US President that “foreign policy isn’t child’s play, (…), Twitter shouldn’t become an instrument of foreign policy” (Levitz, 2017) and stressed the fact that Madeleine Albright, a former Secretary of State, had herself recalled that Twitter should not be a tool for foreign policy (Hunt, 2017).
In diplomacy, the least that can be said is that this “hashtag diplomacy” is the opposite of the habits of international relations characterised by their nuances, secrets and formalism. Twitter is the antithesis of diplomatic usage: humour is rare in diplomacy (especially in writing) and is tend to be counterproductive. The provocation is considered an unfriendly, even directly hostile act. The unpredictability is the last think policy-makers want in foreign policy.
However, because of the digital weight in our societies and the centrality of the “web giants”, states are just beginning to organise and establish new forms of diplomatic dialogue, especially with Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon, as they have been doing for centuries with nations. To cope with these digital behemoths, which for some of them have cash levels higher than the GDP of industrialised countries, Denmark has just taken the plunge by inventing the diplomacy of the 21st century by appointing a “digital ambassador” (Gramer, 2017).
While it is still difficult to say what form this “diplomatic dialogue” will take between a country and these technologic multinationals, there is no shortage of subjects: the impact of artificial intelligence, protection of personal data, prevention against misinformation and fake news.
AWD News. (2016), “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan sends grounds troops into Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack”, 20th December 2016, available at: http://awdnews.com/political/israeli-defense-minister-if-pakistan-send-ground-troops-into-syria-on-any-pretext,-we-will-destroy-them-with-a-nuclear-attack
Gramer, R. (2017), “Denmark Creates the World’s First Ever Digital Ambassador”, 27th January 2017, Foreign Policy, available at: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/01/27/denmark-creates-the-worlds-first-ever-digital-ambassador-technology-europe-diplomacy/
Hunt, K. (2017), “China tells Donald Trump to lay off Twitter”, CNN, 5th January 2017, available at: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/01/04/politics/china-trump-twitter/
Levitz, E. (2017), “China would like Trump to stop conducting Diplomacy over Twitter”, New York Magazine, 4th January 2017, available at: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2017/01/china-wants-trump-to-stop-doing-diplomacy-over-twitter.html