September 18, 2019

#Digitaldiplomacy – Psst! Vote for us! @foreignoffice

The government has today published The FCO Digital Strategy, the Foreign Office’s digital strategy for the year ahead. When Twitter seems mostly to be used for japes like #EndOfTheWorldConfessipns it is good to remember times when social media has proved vital – for example in the Arab Spring earlier this year. In the wake of this the FCO have noted that social media has transformed diplomacy and recognise that power is now more dispersed than ever. The FO is already on Twitter – @foreignoffice, but social media is set to play a larger and larger role not just for communication but also as a method of foreign policy delivery.

What exactly does that mean? Social media will be used to help predict developments and formulate and implement policy. Sounds about right. The plan is for social media also to be used for ‘influencing and identifying people to influence.’ We are not told how this influencing will take place. I imagine tweets to surly UN members saying Psst! Vote for us on resolution 665r66e and you’ll LOL, YMMV, please RT to other countries . Maybe that won’t be the way it will work. Would the Foreign Secretary have time to send all the tweets needed?

In the future many more Foreign Office services will be accessible by smartphone. They also say that they are moving towards delivering services digitally by default – which will save money – and using digital tools wherever they can add value.

It is good to see the British government embracing technology and being able to see the benefits for a democracy in the huge growth of social media. The instant access that we all have to everyone else, whoever they are is unprecedented. How could I have got an immediate message to the foreign secretary even a few years ago?  The FCO’s own summary states: We want to see digital embedded in every element of foreign policy work, leading to a more effective, more open Foreign and Commonwealth Office that can take full advantage of the networked world. These are admirable aims and along with their more enabling social media policy we will hopefully start hearing on Twitter from more diplomats around the world on a variety of subjects.

Digital diplomacy has been recognised as the future and it will be interesting to see how the FCO’s use of social media develops. When foreign events can be reported in the blink of an eye by those on the ground it is vital for the FO to have a team monitoring social media as it is on Twitter that news is broken first nowadays. Tweeting for England – if they still need team members I’m keen to volunteer!

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