Digital Diplomacy: The Spanish Way / Alfonso Dastis

Alfonso Dastis
Spanish Foreign Minister

Just a couple of months ago I took office as Minister of Foreign Affairs after having served as a diplomat for more than three decades in different postings. During those years, I approached social networks first as something that was out of our diplomatic work and only part of our leisure time, then as something that we started to observe and follow for analytical purposes and anticipation. Now the Spanish MFA and myself are part of the increasing activity that we call digital diplomacy. We would like to contribute to shape it into a silhouette that is useful, helpful and earnest to citizens and partners, into contours positive to international understanding.

Zigmunt Bauman, the polish-born sociologist, recently deceased, had warned us against social media becoming “a trap”. He received the Prince of Asturias Award in 2010 for his many contributions to our understanding of contemporary world. He had coined the term “liquid modernity” to describe the new world that allows for permanent transformation – personal transformation as well as transformation of society and technology– in which individuals become nomads and bonds are only temporary. Bauman advocated that we need dialogue, but a dialogue in the sense of an exposure that widens our minds and horizons, an effort to understand those who think different. He anticipated that social networks can, instead, narrow the perspective of Internet users that choose to hear only what reverberates their own thinking.

Dialogue is, in fact, at the very essence of diplomacy, and I think you will agree with me in saying that we need dialogue and diplomacy on the Internet more than ever. In present times we are confronted with increasing xenophobia, euroscepticism, and populism. Pundits see these trends as a reaction to the uncertainty felt by many individuals. The rise of social media has added to the mélange with an instant dissemination of unverified news, biased comments, and emotional and simplistic messages.

Rather than contributing to uncertainty, we will devote ourselves to clarity and predictability.  Our activity on the Internet is based on principles such as quality and credibility of the information, pertinence and transparency, and public service. Our network of accounts now stretches all over the world, since we want it to become a regular and global service provided to Spaniards, and to other nationals, no matter where they are. Our Atlas of Social Media  will help anyone find the correct, “official” accounts and webs sustained by our offices all over the world. It´s an important tool for clarity and certainty.

The objectives we have been pursuing have gone in that direction, too. Here are some of our digital diplomacy aims:

– Inform and assist Spaniards abroad, including under circumstances of emergency under terrorist attacks or natural disasters. We need to concentrate and increase the uses of Internet that are directly related to individuals. Every use of Internet that MFAs make to help fellow citizens in consular need, no matter how small the issue may seem, has to be viewed as a great achievement.

– Better public explanation of the work of embassies and consulates, as well as the tasks of the Ministry and our position in different issues of Foreign Policy.

– Introduce the “intricacies” of Foreign Policy to the public, by adapting specialised jargon to plain language, and by explaining as much as we can the multilateral formats and customary uses of state-to-state relations and negotiations.

– We will continue to support a higher country profile and more up to date information available online. Social Media can help improve the quality of personal decisions of investors or exporters with valuable information, of students on cultural or educational exchange, and of visitors coming to Spain.

But there is more we can do, and in the upcoming years I would like the Spanish digital diplomacy to engage more. Let me offer you just an example. Contrary to the many who are turning their back to the European Union, I am convinced that we need more Europe.  A stronger European Union. A Union capable of delivering results, solving the problems of our citizens, and recovering the faith in its Institutions. True enough, in many ways the Union needs reform.  Yes, it’s also true that in many ways the EU already delivers, but we fail when people do not acknowledge it. Probably that means that we need to increase our communication efforts, even in a country like mine, where the population is overwhelmingly pro-european. I would, therefore, be supportive of a “more pro-European” digital diplomacy of EU members.



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