Discussions on Digital Diplomacy

imageThe July/August issue of PDiN Monitor, the electronic review of public diplomacy in the news by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, focuses on the subject of Digital Diplomacy.

In “Beyond the Blackberry Ban: Realpolitik and the Negotiation of Digital Rights,” Shawn Powers looks at the Blackberry data network as a component of the global communications grid called for by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In doing so, Shawn asks,

…shouldn't we be talking about the importance of maintaining the sanctity of such a network, and even thinking through how to get more secure, BlackBerry devices in the hands of civil society advocates and leaders in the Middle East? Or would such a strategy backfire, similar to the way U.S. arms sales to mujahidin during the Cold War continue to thwart American policy in Afghanistan today? …

But what would a world with ubiquitous secure, mobile communications actually look like? Would democracy and civil society flourish, or would hateful and violent groups be better able to organize and plan their terrorizing of society?

While I disagree with Shawn’s characterization of Wikileaks in his article as an organization “whose primary mission is to enhance democratic deliberations and accountability through transparency”, his points about the tension between the freedom and security of information exchange are valuable fodder for a serious discussion on the issue.

In my article “Everybody’s Diplomacy” in this issue, I take issue with the name of “digital diplomacy” and describe challenges from the failure of bureaucracies and traditionalists to adapt to the modern era when everyone is a communicator and information moves seamlessly between online and offline platforms (see Now Media). 

The concept of open engagement upsets the traditional hierarchies and entrenched bureaucratic cultures of institutions like the State Department. Never comfortable with public diplomacy, digital diplomacy is now forced on it as a kind of “public-public diplomacy.” Everyone from “front office” diplomats and public affairs officers to “back office” staff are potential communicators with audiences who may be anywhere in the world, hold any rank, and reuse and manipulate anything conveyed. In other words, regardless of title, experience, or employment status (contractor, government service, Foreign Service, or political appointee), virtually anyone can, intentionally or not, shape conversations about critical topics.

I conclude that we will be successful when the term “digital diplomacy” disappears and all we talk about is engagement.

Other articles in this issue include Tori Horton on the benefits and critiques of “digital diplomacy” in A New Breed of Foreign Policy, and Rima Tatevossian on the growth of mobile technology and the use of social media by the U.S. government in No Simple App for Public Diplomacy.

What are your thoughts on Digital Diplomacy?