If Pope Urban II. had tweeted „Deus vult!“ in 1095, how many re-tweets would he have received?
‘Following’ and ‘liking’ officials’ social media accounts means constantly carrying the government in one’s pockets. This intrusion into our lives can be compared to paintings of the Annunciation of Christ, often depicting the messenger, Archangel Gabriel, appearing in Mary’s homely room to transmit a message from above. Our secularized world replaces the angel with a governmental official, instead of Virgin Mary listens the average citizen, and in lieu of the white dove (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) flies the blue Twitter-bird. But whereas the encounter with Archangel Gabriel – the patron-saint of diplomacy – brought forth deep reflections within the recipient whose much-pondered response gradually formed into a sincere ‘Yes’, success in digital diplomacy is mostly measured in quantifiable ‘likes’, ‘tags’, ‘shares’ and ‘re-tweets’.
Communication technologies serve politicians’ intentions in promoting their agenda and in achieving a rapid deployment of societal forces. They enable a quick spreading of norms which are then to be re-asserted by the masses. It may certainly be true that social media empower average individuals to participate in important decisions. But a less naïve look would also find that what is guised as open participation also contributes to facilitated monitoring and to a mass reproduction of power structures (Pamment 2015).
For we know that the most influential social media accounts pertain to those who traditionally had held power – mainly governments and leading politicians. This is not surprising: They are the ones who are “most likely to send out firsthand and/or reliable information and have a professional reputation. The general public are interested in who they are and what they say” (Dubois & Gaffney 2014, 1270). But academic scrutiny found official accounts to mostly consist of a “continuous supply of press releases” (Kampf et. al 2015, 331) rather than engaging in true dialogues. They are like a cornucopia gushing out their preferred messages into an amorphous mass public which are then called on to ‘share’ and ‘like’ state narratives. These, after all, are the responses that define the success of public diplomats on the cyberspace.
This background makes it critical to examine how rulers utilize the capacities provided by official digital representation. Moreover, as the locus of Nouvelle Europe’s main interest – Central and Eastern Europe – is known to be weakly positioned on social media (Dodd & Collins 2017), this poses an additional incentive to shed light on this up-to-date and yet under-researched topic. This Nouvelle Europe dossier thus seeks to build upon concepts and frameworks that have recently emerged in academic discussions, and to collect additional ideas with original in-depth research.
Balázs Gyimesi explores the curious case of European sub-state entities – Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders – and their public diplomacy activities; Manon Bellon highlights how official European accounts act on Chinese social media; Patricia Gautier looks at how civil society in Central and Eastern Europe pursue online activism strategies, but finds that “[l]a mobilisation hors-ligne est encore nécessaire”.
Inga Chelyadina reflects upon the discussions surrounding Ukraine’s blockage of the omnipresent Russian social media services. Eric Crozon traces how and why Estonia has created for itself a niche as the international pioneer in e-politics and digital governance.
Pierre H. N. Martin analyzes the 2017 NATO Summit in terms of opinion-leadership among EU member states on Twitter, topping off surprising results with convincing interpretations. Andreas Pacher explores the strategies behind the discursive representation of the Visegrád Group, or #Visegrád, on Twitter.
These analytical observations are concluded by interviews (conducted by Yana Hryshko) with three Ukrainian governmental social media practitioners. This practical perspective serves as a complementary to what otherwise would perhaps seem too scientific – and, as a close look reveals, too detached from how digital diplomacy is actually perceived from those who really ‘do’ it.
Articles in this dossier:
- Sub-state public diplomacy: The Catalan case by Balázs Gyimesi
- Where does Europe stand in the Chinese digital environment? by Manon Bellon
- L’engagement politique sur le web : remplacement ou élargissement de la société civile ? by Patricia Gautier
- Ukraine’s ban of Russian websites: a matter of national security or a sign of rising authoritarianism? by Inga Chelyadina
- La e-diplomatie estonienne à l’heure de la fin des territoires by Eric Crozon
- Tweeting about Security and Defence: The Digital Influence of EU Member States during the 2017 NATO Summit by Pierre H. N. Martin
- The discursive creation of #Visegrád by Andreas Pacher
- Social media in government communications in Ukraine: expert opinions by Yana Hryshko
This dossier is based on the readings:
- DODD, Melissa D. & COLLINS, Steve J., “Public relations message strategies and public diplomacy 2.0: An empirical analysis using Central-Eastern European and Western Embassy Twitter accounts”, Public Relations Review 43, pp. 417-425, 2017, doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pubrev.2017.02.004
- DUBOIS, Elizabeth & GAFFNEY, Devin, “The Multiple Facets of Influence: Identifying Political Influentials and Opinion Leaders on Twitter”, American Behavioral Scientist 58:10, pp. 1260-1277, 2014, doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764214527088
- GOLAN, Guy J. & HIMELBOIM, Itai, “Can World System Theory predict news flow on twitter? The case of government-sponsored broadcasting”, Information, Communication & Society 15:8, pp. 1150-1170, 2016, doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/1369118x.2015.1106572
- KAMPF, Ronit, MANOR, Ilan & SEGEV, Elad, “Digital Diplomacy 2.0? A Cross-national Comparison of Public Engagement in Facebook and Twitter”, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy 10, pp. 331-362, 2015, doi: https://doi.org/10.1163/1871191x-12341318
- PAMMENT, James, “Digital diplomacy as transmedia engagement: Aligning theories of participatory culture with international advocacy campaigns”, new media & society, pp. 1-17, 2015, doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444815577792
- Twiplomacy Study 2016: http://www.twiplomacy.com/blog/twiplomacy-study-2016/.
- VAN HAM, Peter, Social Power in International Politics, Routledge, 2010.
Image: Detail from Fra Angelico’s Annunciation (Museo Diocesano in Cortona).