Digital Diplomacy beyond the Diplomat / Diana Santana

Diana Santana – Media and Digital Advisor, Independent Diplomat

Digital diplomacy is not limited to the diplomat. Technological advances now allow non-diplomats to influence diplomatic decisions. Advances have also helped level the playing field so that smaller countries have a stronger say in decisions that affect their lives. Thanks in part to digital tools those that have most at stake – people affected by conflict, human rights abuses, climate change, or other global issues – can contribute to the negotiation process and diplomacy itself.

We at Independent Diplomat (@idiplomat) provide advice on how to use these tools effectively. We advise non-state actors, civil society, as well as governments on how to use digital and other tools to influence policy and decision-makers.

Much like most governments, non-state actors, civil society groups, and smaller states have limited resources. But technological advances in design and production software, social media, and mobile recording, allow individuals and groups to create, disseminate, and track compelling content.

To reach policy-makers making the final decisions, non-state actors, governments, civil society, and smaller governments often use digital diplomacy to tell the story, provide evidence, hold negotiators publically accountable, and build support.


Tell the story

When it comes to conflict, human rights violations, or any other issue facing the international community, the context is often complex. Digital tools allow those with key information to tell the background of the story. Use of multi-media such as videos, graphics, or data visualizations help take complex information and display it in a way that is compelling and digestible.

For instance, Syrians demanding civilian protection, including the Syrian opposition (@SyrianHNC_en) and others, shared a video on Genocide Victim’s Day to highlight atrocities and call on the international community to uphold the words “never again.” The video’s release was timed to reach a key audience – diplomats – and tell the story of what’s happening in Syria.


Provide Evidence

For diplomats to make good decisions they need evidence and substance. In places like Syria where the conflict is too violent for many journalists to cover, civil society groups inside Syria collect evidence and share on digital channels.

For example, Syrian civil society groups, including the While Helmets (@SyriaCivilDef), Syrian Network for Human Rights (@SNHR), Independent Doctors Association (@IndDoctorsAsso)  and others collected evidence on Russia’s war crimes. In December 2016, they provided this information to the Commission of Inquiry on Syria for further investigation. The evidence was then shared on social media and covered by media outlets, which brought the evidence to the public’s attention.


Hold Negotiators Accountable

Diplomats and others involved in the negotiation process often live-tweet or post developments as a way to hold negotiators publicly accountable and highlight certain demands.

During the negotiations leading up to the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a leading developing country voice and driver of the High Ambition Coalition of more than 100 countries, used personal images  and anecdotes to generate support for demands. After the Agreement’s adoption and countries stepped forward to ratify the Agreement, the Marshall Islands became a “global scorekeeper” on Twitter. This helped pressure others to follow. As ratifications and pledges neared the mark for the Agreement’s entry-into-force, Minister de Brum posted an infographic declaring that ratification was likely to occur in record time.


Build support and awareness

Social media is a helpful tool to build awareness of issues that are not making international headlines. Beyond strategic campaigns or the use of multimedia, smaller states or non-state actors can build an audience with creative engagement.

In the case of Somaliland, a state seeking international recognition, its foreign ministry set up the Twitter handle @Somaliland as a rotational account. Each week a new “curator” takes over and provides their personal experience of Somaliland. This approach gives voice to individual perspectives rather than those of an institution. Plus, each new curator brings with them their own followers, which grows the audience and builds support.


Digital Diplomacy

Digital tools have broken down barriers and changed digital diplomacy. As technology advances those that have most at stake – and those that support them – will have more opportunities to express their voice. Diplomats will have to listen. 

Additional information about Independent Diplomat’s work with the Syrian Coalition and the governments of Somaliland and the Republic of the Marshall Islands is available at the Department of Justice, Washington, DC.

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