E-Diplomacy & #Twiplomacy: Where Are the MENA Countries on this?

Last night, PITAPOLICY Consulting & Blog was invited to attend an event that shares best practices on public diplomacy over social media, or E-Diplomacy.  So, PITA’s founder, Mehrunisa Qayyum, gladly attended–and tweeted 🙂 For those focusing specifically on Twitter, the Italian Embassy in the US has coined the #Twiplomacy Series. Here’s the summary on Storify by Andreas Sandre, who is the social media guru and diplomat at the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC.  Follow Andreas for #digitaldiplomacy as @Andreas212nyc!

The frustrating observation from Qayyum: seeing only one pita-consuming country tweeting, and it was The United Arab Emirates as the only one tweeting from the forum.  Perhaps the only one ATTENDING, a forwardly engaging forum–especially given the impact of social media in connecting people throughout the MENA region. 

The timing was serendipitous because, just last week, Qayyum published her piece on how social media may facilitate some solutions in documenting human rights abuses in Syria.  The piece is pasted below and has some response to last week’s post by Courtney Radsch’s insight on cyber-activism and women. 

Development, Diplomacy, & Defense: Solutions via Social Media

By: Mehrunisa Qayyum  Source: Huffington Post

“Development”, “Diplomacy”, and “Defense” make up the foreign policy triangle, but have different approaches to engaging and sharing information. Although Social Media Week organizes some great workshops of how to promote a message, I would rather focus on how social media tools may get us closer towards solutions rather than large informational data dumps. Of the three areas, the most open with information is the international development community — as donors, like Oxfam, or recipients. They are familiar with holding each other accountable for financial spending to get results. For example, the development community has its four big treaties, like the Paris Declaration, which describes how aid should flow with some checks and balances. “Diplomacy” is actively incorporating lessons learned from its social media experience. Meanwhile, “Defense” is still dealing with its transparency identity.

On Monday, March 11, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute recognized how international development’s foreign policy cousins, “diplomacy” and “defense/security”, are trying to catch up to this culture of mutual accountability and transparency in the “Age of Information.” Therefore the goal is to achieve “cognitive dominance” — which is fancy military speak for making sure that the people with the most knowledge are at the center of social media” as one of the report’s co-authors, James Herlong, argued. The report recognizes the power of civil society to channel positive and negative vibes. Arab media specialist, Courtney C. Radsch makes a strong case for tracking which groups are voicing online or not and what this means for activism and policy. Why? Because in the end, for all the influence and perceived “chaos” that a group like Wikileaks introduces into the public space, they are not held accountable to anyone other than themselves. But governments are, and social media provides another outlet to hold organizations accountable — to not just the people they are supposed to serve, but to those that also get pulled into the snowball of communication.

Last year in May, another social media worry came to surface as Ambassador Arturo Sarukhán Casamitjana of Mexico expressed the initial concern for the diplomacy community using social media: feudalizing overseas posts from home governments. Or more simply: allowing embassies to exercise more flexibility in order to respond more expediently to their local environment. Consequently, if embassies do what they want, then they will become more independent.

Nonetheless, Senior Advisor for Technology at Department of State, Shahed Amanullah explains, “I follow the Twitter feeds of every embassy that I have visited. I see what is happening in the U.S. embassy in Ireland. It’s about being on the same page. Either pick up the phone or follow their Twitter feed.”

What is more feudal? Having embassy officials conduct closed door meeting or tweet? The alternative to social media is waiting for access to the cable. Or, diplomats may receive communication from colleagues a few days later — whereas they could easily follow the ‘locked’ Twitterfeed, which is instantaneously available to them — like a mission cable, but at zero cost.  The ideal is that every embassy tweets what they are doing, and each one following the others’ streams.  That is connectivity.

Digital Diplomacy: Reviewing What Can Work

Like development practitioners, diplomacy practitioners are absorbing the lessons learned. “Digital Diplomacy” still affirms that face to face, behind closed doors meetings serve as the primary driving force of international relations and government to government engagement. Launching a network in a high-risk country, like in Pakistan, a face to face complements the digital diplomacy effort. Quite possibly, embassies will represent plural interests rather than just government, national interests.

Click here for the whole story.


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