Matthias Erlandson / University of Chile
Twitter long ago became a battlefield for a closer and more open political discussion among citizens. A single tweet can change the fate of the history, for better or worse.
Since Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20th, the world witnessed how foreign policy, and specially diplomacy, has been carried out in a manner far different from what we’ve been used to. The days of ‘diplomatic’ language and fair play seem long gone. Now, it is all way down.
After signing an Executive Order to build a wall on the border with Mexico, the US President continued fulfilling his campaign promises, signing a travel restriction order for people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the #MuslimBan. This will affect more than 500,000 Green Card holders, over 700,000 immigrants, and 200 million potential tourists.
Twitterland did not take too long to protest. Several companies – especially those in Silicon Valley – did not hesitate to protest this new policy: besides donations from Google, Facebook, and Apple –among others– to organizations that support new immigrants, companies such as Viber offered free calls from the US to the 7 countries affected by the ban; AirBnB offered to provide free housing to anyone affected by the travel ban; DoorDash will provide free food to lawyers and advocates working to support immigrants; and Starbucks announced that it will hire 10,000 refugees worldwide in the next five years.
Twitter-activism, represented by the hashtag #MuslimBan, was also evident on the part of world leaders who either made calls to oppose the travel ban or offered their own contrasting visions regarding immigration and the status of refugees.
Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau tweeted:
To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) January 28, 2017
The Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Mahmet Simsek, also expressed his opposition to Trump’s new policy, tweeting:
We'd happily welcome global talent not allowed back into #USA.
— Mehmet Simsek (@memetsimsek) January 29, 2017
Jean-Marc Ayrault, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development of France, also wrote about the topic, stating:
L'accueil des refugiés est un devoir de solidarité. Le terrorisme n'a pas de nationalité, la discrimination n'est pas une reponse.
— Jean-Marc Ayrault (@jeanmarcayrault) January 29, 2017
(Welcoming refugees is a duty of solidarity. Terrorism has no nationality, discrimination is not the answer).
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, went even further, opposing to Trump’s State Visit to the UK. His position, expressed via Twitter and in in The London Evening Standard:
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) January 30, 2017
But when it comes to smaller voices, there are two samples worth to highlight:
As one of the current Substates Actors pushing for its independence and international recognition, Scotland made its position known after its First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, ReTweeted Trudeau’s message, adding:
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) January 28, 2017
Similarly, Quebec’s Prime Minister, Phillippe Couillard, said:
— Philippe Couillard (@phcouillard) January 29, 2017
(No matter our origins, the color of our skin, our beliefs or who we love, #Quebec will always be home. #polqc)
Are these strategies good for their nations? What do they win or lose with these statements? And why to expose themselves on Twitter?
Governments are aware that they cannot ignore new communications platforms. Social Media and Internet are of course two of the spaces that government communications strategies must occupy in order to move closer to constituents and construct a direct and open dialogue.
According to BrandWatch, the two main hashtags channeling the conversation regarding Trump’s immigration announcement were #MuslimBan and #NoWallNoBan, both totaling over 2.8 million tweets in the first three days after the signing of the Executive Order. Those hashtags reached more than 1,100,000,000 users. The power of Social Media for political advocacy is outstanding.
With those numbers in mind, there is no reason to think that Substate Actors such as Scotland or Quebec would not make good use of these tools in order to communicate their positions, how they view the issue locally, and what their purpose in the international arena is. In most cases, what they wish to achieve is not a change in the US policy itself, but to state their principles, thereby assuming a role as “peace-loving nations” within the international community.
In this way Twitter facilitates these nations not yet recognized by international organizations and forums in gaining awareness.
Scotland and Quebec –as well as all those fully recognized countries such as Canada, France, the UK, or Turkey– may become a trending topics after such online statements, offering them a chance to score some more points in Nation Branding Indexes, to establish multidirectional communications with other politicians and opinion leaders, and to listen to what their citizens have to say. They reduce distances and attempt to show the rest of the world that even smaller actors, by, for example, offering to absorb refugees, have a role to play in major international issues.
If there’s something good (at all) to come out of the #MuslimBan controversy, it is the that Muslims and other targeted minorities can see, through Social Media, that they are not alone. Digital Public Diplomacy and advocacy are prepared to dialogue in their behalf, and today, thanks to Social Media channels, this is much easier.