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Through the use of blogs, microblogging services and other social network pages such as Facebook and YouTube, governments can surmount the limits of traditional diplomacy. Foreign ministries, embassies and governmental representatives have, in the form of social media, innovative tools with which new strategies can be developed in order to connect cultures with one another, to increase sensitivity regarding specific topics, and to quickly disseminate foreign policy positions. Digital diplomacy opens up global possibilities for participation by new target audiences abroad.
With a toolbox of various social media applications, actors within German foreign policy can for the first time enter into a dialogue with civil societies in target regions that was never possible in this form within the parameters of traditional diplomacy. Moreover, social media can function as a ‘mood barometer’ helpful in exploring new subject areas and gaining access to new target audiences. The ability to call for audiences to join in a dialogue on foreign policy topics, and to oneself participate in current debates on the Web in a targeted way, or to generate such debates, can give foreign policy actors a chance to prevail in the midst of strained international relations.
New information and communication technology has revolutionised communication in the field of foreign policy. The changes in the realm of media bring in their wake the following consequences for governmental communications: the work to be done in this area will get more complex and will have to be performed at greater speed. Ministries will have to struggle to keep up with online communication and deliver meaningful responses to user comments in a timely manner. A further unavoidable consequence is that it is not possible to imagine the political future without the participation of new, nongovernmental actors. This leads, for one thing, to a fundamental debate on the question of how online based communication between governments and civil societies should function. For another thing, the latter are in the meantime considered, just like foreign policy representatives, to be ‘influencers’, and are thereby able to participate in foreign policy matters that were previously restricted to diplomats.
As the example of ‘Kony 2012’ clearly showed, civil society actors can even exert political pressure if they take advantage of the full potential of social media globally. International relations in the digital age will be more complex and more diffuse – and in a world of ‘likes’ and ‘hashtags’, there is no way for foreign policy to avoid adapting to the changes in media.
DOI German version: https://doi.org/10.17901/AKBP1.12.2013
DOI English version: https://doi.org/10.17901/AKBP1.13.2013
Anja Türkan was a fellow in the ifa-Research Programme “Culture and Foreign Policy” from July to December 2011, and did her research on the subject of Digital Diplomacy. She studied “Media Culture” at the University of Bremen as well as “Media and Commuications” and “Literary, Cultural and Media Studies” in Siegen and Sydney. In the course of her studies and afterward, Türkan worked in media and in the areas of press and public relations.