Gaza’s Selfie: When the national meets the international

For the past 8 years, the Gaza strip has existed as an island entire onto itself.  Physically it is cut off from the rest of the world by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade. Politically it is isolated from the West Bank as it is ruled by the Hamas Party and not the PLO. Diplomatically it is almost non-existent as few nations recognize Hamas’ rule over the Gaza strip. Thus, PLO and Palestinian Authority officials speak on behalf of Gaza and represent Gaza in international forums even though Gaza is not under their rule.

However, Hamas does represent Gaza on social media. In fact, the Hamas group operates an impressive social media apparatus consisting of Twitter channels, Facebook pages and YouTube channel. Some of these social media accounts are managed by Hamas’ political wing. Others are operated by its military wing and are thus often shut down by social media companies.

Through social media, the political wing of Hamas has been able to construct and image, or Selfie, of the Gaza strip. Over the past three years, Gaza’s Selfie has been one of a desolate island abandoned by the world and hope. Most of Hamas’ social media content depicts the day to day ramifications of Israel’s military siege including lack of education, lack of quality medical care, lack of infrastructure such as electricity and roads, lack of employment opportunities and, most importantly, lack of personal security given frequent Israeli military operation in the Gaza strip.

The components of Hamas’ Selfie of Gaza may be seen in the tweets below published over the last year.

However, in recent weeks a new Selfie of Gaza has emerged on social media, one that depicts it as hustling bustling metropolitan filled with new shopping centers, parks and roads. Additionally, Gaza is now being branded online as a sea side resort town filled with white beaches, pristine boulevards and high-rise buildings.

This new Selfie is constructed through a series of videos recently published by the Hamas group on YouTube. However, these video are meant for domestic audiences rather than international ones.  In October, Hamas and the PLO will compete over the voices of Palestinian voters in the first open elections in years. Hamas is attempting to increase its power by winning control over towns and cities in the West Bank. The PLO, is attempting to regain control of Gaza city. As part of its new political campaign, Hamas has released a series of images and videos all bearing the Arabic hashtag “Thank you Hamas” and all depicting the transformation Gaza has undergone under the group’s rule.

life in gaza.png

Two of Hamas’ new videos can be seen below.

But in the age of social media, what begins as a domestic campaign soon has international ramifications. Once Hamas launched its new campaign, the Israeli government was quick to respond stating that these videos debunk Hamas’ claims of an Israeli siege and occupation. For instance, Ofir Gendelman, the Israeli Prime Minister’s spokesperson for the Arab Media, published the Tweet shown below.

Gendelman’s Tweet were soon re-tweeted by the Israeli foreign ministry and Israel’s embassy in Washington DC.

gaza new 1.png

Gaza new 2.png

In addition, the Tweet was also visible on the Twitter channel of Israel’s embassies to Germany, France and other capitals.

Finally, Hamas’ video also found its way to the social media channels of pro-Israel lobby groups such as the American Stand with US organization that partakes in Israeli public diplomacy efforts.

gaza new 3

Through its digital diplomacy apparatus, Israel was able to re-appropriate Hamas’ videos and depiction of Gaza and use Gaza’s new Selfie as a public diplomacy asset. While the actual impact of Israel’s social media attack on Hamas is unclear, it does demonstrate the manner in which the national and international have become blurred in the age of posts, Tweets and digital diplomacy.

Conclusion:

This post demonstrates that Hamas’ domestic video campaign soon become and international poking stick through which Israeli diplomats, ministries and lobby organizations attempted to undermine Hamas’ characterization of life in Gaza. Yet it may also suggest that in the age of digital media, separating between the domestic and international sphere is becoming increasingly more complicated. As such, one may no longer be able to target one national image, or Selfie, at local audiences and another at international ones.

 

 

 

 

 

Can Monarchs’ Twitter accounts serve as a public diplomacy medium?

The end of World War 2 saw the decline and ultimate abolition of most European Monarchies. By 1945, the majority of European nations had either exiled their Monarch or transitioned towards various forms of constitutional Monarchies. Yet while the remaining Monarchs may have lost their hard power resources (i.e., their status as sovereigns) they soon transformed into Soft Power assets for their nations. For instance, the British Monarchy still captivates millions of people throughout the world who flock each year to Buckingham Palace. It is even estimated that some 3.2 billion people watched the televised broadcast of Princes Diana’s funeral while Prince William’s wedding attracted another 2 billion global viewers. Such televised events attest to the British Monarchy’s contribution to the UK’s diplomatic prestige and its ability to brand itself as a major global player.

While European Monarchs may have lost their divine rights, the same is not true of Middle Eastern Monarchs who remain the leaders of their nations. Such is the case with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah of Jordan and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi.

Recently, both constitutional and absolute Monarchs have migrated to social media such as Twitter and Facebook. In this week’s blog post I attempted to analyze the extent to which online Monarchs are able to attract large number of followers to their Twitter accounts. By so doing I aimed to explore the potential use of Monarchs’ Twitter accounts as a public diplomacy medium through which a nation can promote its brand and foreign policy objectives.

In order to conduct such an analysis I first endeavored to identify Monarchs’ Twitter accounts. This was a relatively difficult task as many Monarchies do not operate official websites nor do their respective MFAs (ministries of foreign affairs) include links to Monarchical social media accounts. Eventually I was able to identify 13 Twitter accounts of European and Middle Eastern Monarchs.  These accounts may be seen in the table below.

monarch 1.png

Once I had my sample of Monarchs, I analyzed the number of followers each Monarch attracts to his  Twitter account. The results of this analysis may be seen in the two graphs below.

monarch 2.png

monarch 3.png

As can be seen in the graphs above, with the exception of Margrethe of Denmark and the Grand Ducal Court of Luxembourg, all Monarchs are able to attract a sizable audience of more than 50,000 followers. As graph 2 indicates, 6 of the 13 Monarchical accounts attract more than a million followers. The average Monarch on twitter is able to attract nearly 1.5 million followers. Thus, Monarchs are more popular on Twitter than most UN embassies, NATO missions and foreign ministers.

It should be noted that most Middle Eastern Monarchs outperform their European peers. As can be seen in table 2, the Emir of Dubai, the Queen of Jordan and King Salman of Saudi Arabia attract the most followers of all Monarchs evaluated. This may be explained by the fact that Middle Eastern Monarchs remain the rulers of their countries as opposed to European constitutional Monarchs.

The apparent online popularity of Monarchs prompted me to compare their number of followers with that of their respective MFAs. This analysis may be seen in the two graphs below.

monarch 4.png

monarch 10

As can be seen, with the exception of Monaco and Bahrain, Monarchs attract far more Twitter followers than their foreign ministries. For instance, the Spanish MFA attracts some 4,000 followers as opposed to the Spanish Royal Family that is followed by more than 500,000 followers. Similarly, the Jordanian Royal Court is followed by some 300,000 Twitter followers as opposed to the Jordanian MFA that attracts some 89,000 followers.

It should be noted that both European and Middle Eastern Monarchs are more popular online than their MFAs as is evident in the case of the UK, Belgium, Norway and the Netherlands.

Next, I attempted to evaluate the extent to which Monarchs are followed by MFAs. Should Monarchs attract foreign ministries, their social media accounts may serve as mediums for diplomatic signaling. To conduct this analysis, I used a sample of 69 MFAs throughout the world that are active on Twitter.  The number of MFAs following each Monarch in my sample may be seen in the graph below.

monacrh 6

The average Monarch is followed by 5.3 MFAs out of a possible 69. While this may seem like a relatively small number, this analysis suggests that Monarchs attract more MFAs than NATO missions and UN embassies.

Notably, Middle Eastern Monarchs attract more MFAs than European ones. While the average number of MFAs following a European monarch on Twitter is 4.2, the average number of MFAs following a Middle Eastern Monarch is 7.3. However, as the table above shows, it is the British Monarchy that attracts the largest number of MFAs.

Next I examined the number of journalists and media outlets that follow Monarchs on Twitter. To do so, I used a sample of 538 newspapers, media outlets and journalists. Notably, the majority of media outlets and journalists in this sample are foreign affairs editors and diplomatic correspondents. The results of this analysis may be seen in the graph below.

monarch 7

The average Monarch is able to attract 12 journalist and media outlets to his/her Twitter account. This figure suggests that Monarchs attract more journalists than NATO missions, UN embassies and even US Presidential Candidates. Moreover, journalists seem to follow both European and Middle Eastern Monarchs. Lastly, as can be seen in the graph above, the British Monarchy rules supreme on Twitter as its attracts the most media interest of all Monarchs evaluated.

Given the apparent popularity of Monarchs among foreign affairs correspondents and media outlets, my final analysis compared between the number of journalists following Monarchs and the number of journalists following their MFAs. This analysis is shown below.

monarch 8

As can be seen, 10 out of the 16 Monarchs evaluated attract more journalists and media outlets than their respective MFAs. Such is the case with all Middle Eastern Monarchs with the exception of Crown Prince of Bahrain. Among European Monarchies, the royal accounts of the Netherlands, Monaco, Norway and Spain attract more media attention than their respective MFAs.

Summary

In this post I attempted to evaluate the possible use of Monarchical Twitter accounts as a Public Diplomacy medium. Results suggest that Monarchs are quite popular online. Monarchial accounts attract more followers than MFAs, UN embassies and NATO missions. Moreover, Monarchs seem to attract more journalists and media outlets than their respective MFAs. As such, it may be possible to utilize such accounts in order to shape the national image, promote national culture and even engage in dialogue with foreign populations. Notably, Middle Eastern Monarchs seem to outperform their European peers possibly due to the fact that most European Monarchs are constitutional ones. However, the British Monarchy seems to rule supreme on social media.

Do US candidates for the Presidency attract diplomats on Twitter?

On the 23rd of July, Donald Trump accepted the Republican nomination for the Presidency of the United States. This week Hillary Clinton is likely to be chosen at the Democratic nominee for the Presidency. While it is true that national elections often draw attention from foreign countries and governments, no election is as closely monitored by the international community as the American one. Indeed, newspapers reporters from all over the world flocked last week to Cleveland to report on the Republican convention while this week they will all migrate to Philadelphia to cover the Democratic convention.

In light of both parties’ conventions, I attempted this week to explore whether the US candidates for the Presidency attract diplomats and diplomatic institutions to their Twitter accounts. Both Clinton and Trump use Twitter on a daily basis in order to make announcements (e.g., selection of their VP), comment on domestic and global events and outline future policies. Such was the case with Trump’s questioning of the role of NATO or Clinton’s announcement that she is not afraid to confront dictators. It would therefore be fair to assume that foreign ministries, UN missions and other diplomatic institutions would follow Clinton and Trump on social media in order to gather and analyze relevant information.

I began my analysis by examining the number of international news outlets and journalists that follow Clinton and Trump. Notably, I used a sample for more than 500 publications that deal with foreign policy and international affairs alongside diplomatic correspondents, diplomatic commentators, foreign affairs journalists and foreign affairs editors. The results of this analysis may be seen below.

trump table 1

As can be seen in the graph above, while Clinton attracts nearly 140 publications and journalists to her Twitter channel, Trump is followed by 98. However, both candidates seem to attract a relatively small number of foreign affairs journalists and publications given the sample size of 538. These results may be explained by the fact that Presidential candidates attract journalists covering the US rather than journalists covering diplomatic issues.

Next I analyzed the number of MFAs (foreign ministries) each candidate attracts to his Twitter channel. To do so I compiled a sample of 69 MFAs that actively use Twitter. The sample included MFAs from Europe, N. America, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia and Oceania. The results of this analysis may be seen below.

trump table 2.png

As can be seen in the graph above, while Clinton is followed by 24 MFAs from the sample, Trump is followed by only 3. While this is a substantial gap, both candidates attract a relatively small number of ministries given that the sample size was 69. It is also possible that Clinton is able to attract more diplomatic MFAs as she previously served as Secretary of State.

My next analysis focused on mission to the UN in New York and Geneva. My assumption was that UN missions would actively follow both US candidates as missions deal with a variety of global issues. For this analysis I used a sample of 33 missions to the UN. The results of the New York and Geneva analyses may be seen below.

trump table 3.png

trump table 4.png

As can be seen, in both UN foras Clinton attracts a larger number of missions. In New York, Clinton is followed by 12 missions as opposed to Trump who attracts only 1. Similarly, Clinton is followed by 11 missions to the UN in Geneva while Trump attracts none. More importantly, Clinton seems to attract a large number of missions given the sample size of 33.

While UN mission have a global mandate, NATO missions may find even more interest in Presidential candidates as the US is the leader of this military alliance. I therefore assumed that NATO missions would closely follow both candidates on Twitter. I also expected to find many missions following Trump given his recent statements on the futility of NATO. For this analysis I used a sample of 22 missions to NATO and the NATO press secretary. The results may be seen below.

Trump table 5.png

As can be seen, while Clinton is followed on Twitter by 9 NATO missions, Trump attracts only 1 mission. This is another substantial gap in Clinton’s favor. Moreover, Clinton is followed by nearly half of the sample (9 out of 22 missions). This could suggest that NATO mission more closely monitor US political figures than UN missions or MFAs.

My last analysis examined the number of UN related multi-lateral organizations that follow both candidates. To do so I compiled a sample of 43 organizations including the World Trade Organization, the World Health Organization, and the International Telecommunication Union. The results of this analysis may be seen below.

 

trump table 6.png

As can be seen, while Clinton is followed by 14 UN related organizations, a third of the sample, Trump is unable to attract any such organizations to his Twitter channel.

Summary

In this post I attempted to analyze whether US Presidential candidates attract diplomatic institutions to their Twitter channels. My assumption was that given the US’ role in the world, MFAs, UN mission and NATO missions would flock to Trump and Clinton’s social media accounts given a desire to gather relevant information.

The analysis first revealed that diplomatic correspondents, editor and publications do not follow the candidates in large numbers. This is quite intriguing as one would assume that the identity of the future US President, and his intended policies, would be of interest to this group. One possible explanation is that Presidential candidates are covered by journalists whose focus is the US rather than diplomatic correspondents.

The analysis of MFAs, UN mission, NATO missions and UN related organizations all revealed a large gap in Clinton’s favor. Moreover, as opposed to MFAs, Clinton is able to attract a large number of UN and NATO missions and UN related organizations (one third or one half of the sample). These results could indicate that diplomatic institutions do in-fact follow US candidates for the Presidency.

The large gaps in favor of Clinton found in all analyses may be partly explained by the fact that she was once Secretary of State. While Clinton did not operate her own Twitter channel while she was Secretary, it is possible that some diplomatic organization followed her once she left office as past Secretaries of State are still valuable sources of information for diplomats. It is also possible that diplomatic institutions do not follow Trump given a fear that doing so would legitimize the candidate and his views. As Trump is a divisive candidate, diplomatic organizations may feel that following him on Twitter constitutes a form of endorsement.

 

Turkey Launches #DigitalDiplomacy Blitz

During the night of Friday the 15th of July, as Turkish soldiers attempted to stage a coup and oust the Turkish government, MFAs and diplomats were slow to comment on events. By the time official statements were issued by the State Department or Downing 10, social media networks were flooded with images and video of soldiers storming TV stations and tanks shelling the Turkish parliament.

The statements from most MFAs offered the same message- the coup was an attempt to overthrow a democratically elected government and as such it must be stopped. On Saturday morning, as the soldiers staging the coup began to surrender, MFAs and foreign ministers congratulated the Turkish people on surviving this assault on their democracy.

Since then, however, the tone of Western diplomats has altered dramatically. As the trending hashtag on Twitter changed from #TurkeyCoup, to #TurkeyPurge, MFAs have called on President Erdogan and his government to respect democratic processes and resist the urge to use the coup to amass even more power. Yet still the purge rages on in Turkey and on social media.

Over the past two days, the traditional media has joined the chorus and proclaimed Erdogan a President turned Sultan.

Yet through all this, Turkish digital diplomacy channels have been all but silent. The only response so far came on the 16th of July. In a series of four Tweets Turkish diplomats offered a clear frame of what had transpired in the country: an attempt was made against Turkish democracy, the attempt was halted by the Turkish demos and the government is once again in full control of events.

Since July 16th, most Turkish embassies and consulates have refrained from uploading content to Twitter or Facebook. This was also the case with Turkish officials and national institutions.

As such, Turkey’s critics have monopolized the post-coup debate.

But that has changed in recent hours. Since this afternoon, Turkey has mounted a digital diplomacy blitz aimed at regaining control over the discourse pertaining to events in the country. This Blitz seems to focus on four main themes.

Theme Number One: Emphasizing that the Erdogan Government was Democratically Elected 

This Tweets aim to remind social media audiences, including foreign populations, diplomats and media outlets, that the Erdogan government was democratically elected and is still supported by the people of Turkey. Such Tweets have been published by both Turkish embassies and the Turkish Presidency.

Theme Number Two: A Show of National Unity

The second theme emphasizes the national unity now felt in Turkey. This Tweets aim to demonstrate that while Turkey is criticized abroad, it is united from within and that all parties in parliament share the same goal- stability.

Tweets are also meant to remind social media audiences that Turkish opposition parties also denounced the coup attempt against the Erdogan government. Tweets dealing with national unity have been published by Turkish embassies all over the world including London, Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. In addition, they have been Tweeted by the Turkish Presidency.

Theme Number Three: Demonstrating Brutality of Coup Soldiers

The most dominant theme in Turkey’s digital diplomacy blitz is the focus on the apparent brutality of the soldiers partaking in the coup attempt. In recent hours, embassies in London, Berlin, Brasilia, the UN and Tel Aviv have all shared video depicting violence against Turkish civilians. Videos also feature attacks on Turkish institutions such as the parliament, the presidential palace and police stations.

Both types of videos may be seen as a response to the attacks on President Erdogan and his purge by depicting the coup as an attack on democracy itself. These videos might also be a digital countermeasure to videos shared online depicting violence and lynches of soldiers who partook in the coup.

Theme Number Four: International Support

Finally, some Turkish embassies are still Tweeting messages of support from other governments. Yet as the post-coup Turkey takes shape, these messages of international support have become rarer.

Summary- The Battale Over Narratives Wages On

It is hard to tell whether Turkey’s digital diplomacy blitz will succeed in changing the social media discourse which informs the traditional media’s coverage which informs foreign policy. What is certain is that Turkey has realized that while the coup has ended, the battle over narratives wages on.

Finally, it should be noted that the blitz could have something to do with the WikiLeaks publication of thousands of AKP emails earlier today.

 

Selfie Diplomacy- Analyzing Profile Pictures of World Leaders on Twitter

Last week I published an analysis of the Twitter profile pictures of MFAs (ministries of foreign affairs). I argued that such images may be a form of Selfie Diplomacy as profile pictures enable social media users to construct an online identity and communicate that identity to their networks.

This week I endeavored to analyze the Twitter profile pictures of world leader. Notably, I analyzed leaders’ personal account rather than their institutional ones (i.e., @BarackObama rather than @POTUS). The reason for this choice was an attempt to understand if such accounts are used for international or intra-national purposes.

Robert Putnam has suggested that diplomacy is a two level game involving the intra-national and international arenas. National leaders have to form intra-national coalitions to ratify international treaties or agreements. Likewise, leaders rely on achievements at the international level to strengthen their intra-national political standing.

I had assumed that leaders’ personal Twitter accounts would have to reconcile the tension between these two levels. On the one hand, the national leader is a domestic political figure and thus his Twitter account would target the domestic population.  On the other hand, leaders’ accounts are followed by MFAs, diplomats and foreign affairs journalists and must therefore also target international audiences.

Using a sample of 57 world leaders, I was able to identify five broad categories that offer insight into the use of Twitter profile pictures by world leaders.

Category Number One: Looking to the Future

The first category I identified included leaders whose Twitter profile picture looks to future generations. This category was comprised mostly of profile pictures featuring leaders alongside children or the future generations for whom the national leader labors. Such pictures seem to target the intra-national level as they portray the leader as the guardian of the nation and caretaker of its future. Surprisingly, such profile pictures were used by leaders from a wide range of countries spanning from Australia to Iran and Scandinavia. Examples of such profile pictures may be seen below.

iran.png(Iran)

USA(USA)

Australia.jpg (Australia)

Canada.jpg(Canada)

Category Number Two: Sending a Domestic Message

The second category I identified was comprised of Twitter profile pictures which are utilized by leaders to send a message to the domestic population. Thus, such pictures also focus on the intra-national level. Leaders in this category seem to use their Twitter profile pictures to make a political statement much like an individual who changes his profile picture following a national referendum or a terrorist attack.

For instance, Israeli President Ruvi Rivlin uses his Twitter profile picture to make a statement regarding violence and incitement in Israel, an issue close to his heart. In the picture, shown below, Rivlin is speaking to members of Israeli youths movements about the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Thus, Rivlin uses his profile picture  to remind Israelis of the danger of hate speech, political radicalization and violence.

Israel pres

Conversely, the President of Kenya seems to be sending domestic audiences a different message. His profile picture, shown below, includes the headline “transforming Kenya”. As such, the President is laying out his vision for the future of the country while obviously celebrating his accomplishments thus far as is evident by the celebratory banner bearing the colors of the Kenyan flag.

kenya.png

Interestingly, the picture of the President is also reminiscent of a famous image of another black leader, Martin Luther Kings (see below). This may be a purposeful attempt by the President to associate himself with a famous global political icon. If this is indeed the case than this may be an example of how the international and the intra-national collide on the Twitter profiles of world leaders.

mlk

Another example of domestic messaging is the Twitter profile picture of the Spanish President. In the image, shown below, the President is tacking a Selfie with a group of enthusiastic youngsters. Given that the rate of unemployment amongst the young in Spain is about 45%, this image may serve as a political statement attesting to the President’s focus on Spanish youngsters. It may also serve to demonstrate that he has their political support.

spain.jpg

The final example, shown below, is from the President of Panama who is celebrating two years in office. His profile picture includes a straight forward domestic statement- “Two years of putting Panama first”.

panama.png

Category Number Three: Leadership

The third category I identified is that of images depicting leadership. Such is the case with profile pictures in which a leader’s image is set against the backdrop of the national flag while he is talking to the nation onstage .

The first example of this category, shown below, is from the Twitter account of former UK prime-minister David Cameron. Here Cameron is shown talking onstage while the Union Jack is visible in the background.

cameron.png

Notably, the new UK prime-minister Theresa May has chosen a similar image for her Twitter profile.  The colors of May’s picture are those of the UK flag (white, blue and red) while Mrs. May is also addressing an audience. However, May’s picture also includes a mission statement- to make the UK a “country that works for everyone”.

may.png

A similar, yet perhaps more subtle image, is employed by the Israeli prime-minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As can be seen below, Netanyahu seems to be on his way to address a large crowd. The entire image is made up of two colors, blue and white, which are the colors of Israel’s national flag.

Israel PM.pngThe final example, shown below, is from the Twitter channel of Turkey’s President. In the image, the President is shot against the backdrop of the Turkish flag while in the smaller image he holds his hand to his chest. This image seems to portray a dedicated leader who holds his nation dear to heart.

turkey.png

In summary, this category also seems to target the intra-national level and focuses on leadership traits.

Category Number Four: Institutionalism

The fourth category I identified included Twitter profile pictures of leaders’ official residence, official title, official duties or official buildings. Such images seem to focus on the institutional role of a leader as the head of state. In such images the leader is not represented as a political figure but rather as a national institution that is in charge of the smooth running of the government. Such images may be employed by leaders who wish to show that they represent their entire nation and not one group or faction. Below are some examples of such profile pictures.

egypt.png(Egypt, words in Arabic Say “Abdelfattah Elsisi, President of Egypt”)

lithuania.png(President of Lithuania)

russia pm.png

(Prime Minster of Russia)

The image below, taken from the Twitter channel of Argentina’s President, does not include his official residence but rather his inauguration as President. Thus this image again portrays the leader as a national institution.

 argentina.png

The final example includes the profile picture of Narendra Modi, President of India. In the image, the President is speaking in his official capacity on India’s 69th Independence Day celebration. Here again the colors that dominate the image (white, green and orange) are those of the Indian national flag.

 India Modi.png

Category Number Five: Branding the Nation

The final category of profile pictures I analyzed seems to focus on both the intra-national and international level. Such pictures portray the leader against the backdrop of the national scenery, national landscape, national monuments or the nation’s capital. These pictures may be used in order to draw an association between the leader’s traits and the traits of the country.  In other words, the leader’s brand is used to promote the national brand. As such, this category is the only one I found to focus on the two levels of diplomacy.

The first example, shown below, is the profile picture of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani.  Rouhani has been hailed as the new face of a new Iran, an Iran that wants to end its isolation and return to the League of Nations even at the cost of its nuclear program. The profile picture of Iran’s President seems to mesh between the old Iran and the new one, the history of Iran and its new outward orientation.

Iran Rouhani.png

The second example, shown below, is the profile picture of Russia’s President. In the picture, a tall and proud Putin can be seen behind the official Presidential seal while set against the backdrop of a beautiful image of Moscow. This picture may be an attempt to create a Halo effect where Brand Putin contributes to Brand Russia. An ulterior reading would state that this image is actually an intra-national message saying – L’État, c’est moi.

Russia Pres.png

The final examples, shown below, portray the leader against the backdrop of the national scenery or the national landscape.

Singapore.png

(Singapore)

Luxemburg.png

(Luxemburg)

Summary

This post aimed to analyze the Twitter profile picture of world leaders. Taking into account the two level model of diplomacy, the post suggests that most leaders target the domestic level rather than the international one. When leaders’ profile pictures do target the international level, it appears to be mostly for branding purposes.

However, the tension between the intra-national and international level was evident as many world leaders chose not to have a Twitter profile picture at all as can be seen in the many examples below.

ecaudor.png

(Ecuador)

south africa.png

(South Africa)

Rwanda.png

(Rwanda)

Norway.png

(Norway)

 

 

How to contend with social media violence? Three challenges facing online diplomats

On June 9th 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign shot back at Donald Trump. In a “tweet heard around the world”, Clinton advised Trump to delete his Twitter account after the Billionaire attacked President Obama for endorsing Clinton. Many congratulated Clinton for this attack which was viewed as a testament to her determination and strength. Others saw it as the launch of her campaign to beat Trump in the upcoming elections.

Yet to me, Clinton’s Tweet was another example of online violence.  It demonstrated yet again how violent social media rhetoric has become. Clinton’s Tweet did not address Trump’s arguments, or highlight his use of violent rhetoric or even challenge him to an actual debate on the issues facing America. It was a punch. A well timed punch, yet a punch none the less. Clinton is right in asserting that Trump’s rhetoric promotes violence. She is even right in asserting that the Billionaire uses social media to incite violence.  Yet instead of leading the charge against this, she emulated it.

As social media becomes more and more violent, so does the digital diplomacy landscape. In this post I outline three challenges facing diplomats and MFAs.

Challenge number one: Violence towards online diplomats

In the age of digital diplomacy, diplomats are no longer in the trenches. Encouraged by their MFAs, their peers and scholars, diplomats have ventured outside the Embassy walls in order to engage with social media users. Yet the more I talk to diplomats, the more I learn about their feeling of exposure and the abuse and violence they suffer online. The migration of diplomats to social media has positioned them at the front lines of diplomacy, and it is on these front lines that they encounter an abusive and unpredictable online demos.

The question that follows is how can MFAs best support online diplomats who are exposed to online violence?

One answer may be in training. Studies have suggested that there is a difference between asking a question online and stating one’s opinion. When people ask questions online they often do so with the goal of receiving an answer. Moreover, once they have asked a question, social media followers are likely to evaluate the answer provided. The same cannot be said for statements of opinion. Social media followers who voice their opinions often fail to take into account the response they receive. Moreover, some social media followers are likely to disregard the response they received and simply re-state their opinion yet in a more violent manner. At other times statement of opinion may be used to lure diplomats into heated arguments.

As such, MFAs may train diplomats to allocate more resources to answering questions rather than commenting on statements of opinion. Training may also enable diplomats to identify red lines that, when crossed, should mark the end of an online exchange. Finally, simulations may be employed to help diplomats develop online skills for identifying those social media followers who want nothing more but to hurl abuse.

Secondly, as pointed out by Prof. Corneliu Bjola at a recent lecture, MFAs need to offer front line diplomats better support. Here I refer to emotional rather than technical support.

Challenge number two: Breaking violent echo chambers

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter often serve as echo chambers. Given that their algorithms analyze users’ preferences, social media users are more likely to be exposed to content published by likeminded individuals which validates their world view.  As such, social media is not a town square in which issues are debated but, rather, a political rally in which the user with loudest megaphone prospers.

Thus, Facebook and Twitter have become breeding ground for political extremists of all shapes and sizes. Some use it to denounce immigrants, others to denounce ethnic groups while still others rail in favor or against religions.  From terrorist movements to zealot politicians, the social media landscape is now populated by populists.

The challenge for diplomats is how to fracture these echo chambers? Some MFAs have attempted to use social media to counter the narratives spread online by terrorist groups. Yet such channels often become tools through which MFAs converse with journalists and their domestic population rather than radicalized publics. Other governments have taken to blaming Facebook and Twitter for violence. According to a senior Israeli minister, Facebook is responsible for the deaths of Israelis by Palestinian terrorists. Yet such statements are also meant for domestic politics rather than actual impact.

In order to overcome this challenge, MFAs may need to develop a new toolkit, one which enables them to effectively fracture the iron dome of hate under which online publics now assemble.  To this end, MFAs may need to seek outside council from academics, computer experts and the social media companies themselves. This, however, will a raise and additional challenge in the form of definitions. What is hate speech? Who is an extremist? And what opinions should be countered online? In the time of Trump and La Penn, this challenge may be greater than it seems.

Challenge number three: Diplomatic violence

The final challenge facing digital diplomats is the use of social media by governments to spread violence.

For instance, some governments now employ troll armies tasked with attacking foreign countries and foreign leaders online be it verbally or in the form of cyber-attacks. Several reports indicate that Russia now includes social media in its hybrid warfare against other states. Likewise, some governments employ Bots to automatically spread online content thereby warping the public discourse in foreign countries and possibly influencing political processes.

Other MFAs have utilized Diasporas in order to influence political events in foreign countries. In some cases, Diasporas are recruited by MFAs to spread disinformation on social media. Such information campaigns can de-stabilize foreign governments. In other cases, Diasporas are utilized to instigate political unrest in their country of origin through their social networks.

Thus, digital diplomacy has also become a tool through which violence is encouraged, rather than fought.

Addressing the challenges outlined in this post cannot be achieved by an individual MFA. Rather, they require a coalition of MFAs, diplomats, civil society organizations and private corporations. Fortunately, these diverse networks can all still be brought together via social media.

 

Selfie Diplomacy- Analysis of MFA Profile Pictures on Twitter

Last week, as news of Brexit broke, foreign ministries throughout the world took to social media to comment on the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The German foreign ministry responded in two ways. First, it published a series of tweets from Chancellor Markel’s press conference. Secondly, it changed its Twitter profile picture from an image of the German foreign minister to the EU flag (see below).

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(German MFA)

Germany’s response on Twitter can be conceptualized as a form of online click-tivism which is similar to an individual changing his profile picture following an important event. Indeed changing one’s profile picture has become a form of political activism through which people identify with political events or social causes. Such was the case with people who changed their profile picturefollowing the Paris terror attacks or the US supreme country’s ruling legalizing gay marriage

Studies have shown that profile pictures on social media serve two main functions. The first is the creation of an online identity. SNS users employ their profile picture to construct an identity and to communicate that identity to their online communities. Through images users can express their beliefs and values and identify the political movements or communities they belong to. In addition, profile pictures enable one to manage his online impression. Individuals can project a well-crafted image through their profile pictures. Be it an image of popularity, financial success or dedication to a place of employment.

An intriguing question is how do MFAs use their Twitter profile images. Are these used to promote the national brand, or to project a certain institutional image or perhaps to make political statements as was the case with Germany’s foreign ministry. I have previously conceptualized MFA social media activity as a form of “Selfie diplomacy” as ministries use Twitter to manage the national image. Profile pictures may serve as another form of Selfie diplomacy through which MFAs construct thier own digital identity.

To investigate how MFA utilize profile pictures I reviewed the Twitter profile pictures of 69 ministries. Through content analysis I was able to identify five broad categories that offer insight into the use of profile pictures by MFAs.

Category One: Institutionalism

The first category I identified included MFAs whose profile picture consists of the ministry’s building. Such a profile picture can be used by the MFA to identify itself as a professional institution tasked with representing the nation abroad and advancing its interests. Such institutions are home to trained practitioners who use routines and standard operating procedures to achieve their goals. Profile pictures of MFA buildings may also be representative of institutional cultures that take pride in professionalism. Finally, profile pictures of ministry buildings may add credability to social media content. Indeed such pictures signify that the MFA’s content constiutes official statements by the government as opposed to just slogans and catch-phrases.

Below are some examples of this category.

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(EU External Action Service)

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(MFA of Romanian)

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(MFA of Armenia)

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(MFA of Kuwait)

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(MFA of Austria)

Category Two- The Mission Statement

The second category I identified included MFAs whose profile pictures focuses on the ministry’s mission- to face the world and advance a country’s interest in the global arena. Such MFAs may have an institutional culture that focuses on the ministry’s mission rather than its professional routines.

Profile pictures included in this catagory may also be used to identify the priorities of the MFA. For instance, the image below, used by the Spanish MFA, shows its global outlook. However, the image of the Belgium MFA seems to indicate a 21st century global outlook. This is due to the fact that the Belgium MFA’s picture corresponds with images depicting a globalized world brought together through ICTs and movement of individuals. Thus the Belgium MFA’s Selfie is one of a globally and technologically oriented ministry.

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(MFA of Spain)

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(MFA of Belgium)

As opposed to the Belgian and Spanish MFAs, Poland’s profile picture identifies a different set of priorities (see image below). Two of the images included in the profile picture showcase the US flag and US Secretary of State Kerry identifying America as a strategic partner. An additional image depicts a multi-lateral meeting at NATO headquarters. Finally, one can see an image of two people wearing a shirt with the Polish MFA’s logo. Taken together, these images suggest that the Polish MFA’s mission is to represent Polish citizens (those wearing the T-shirt) and to protect Poland from aggression (the US and NATO).

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(Poland MFA)

Finally, the MFA of the United Arab Emirates uses a profile picture showcasing the flags of the world. Here again one can identify the MFA’s global outlook. However, the rows of flags shown in the picture are reminiscent of those found outside multi-lateral organizations headquarters (e.g., UN in Geneva or New York). As such, this MFA’s mission may be to use multi-lateral diplomacy to advance the national interests.

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(United Arab Emirates MFA)

Category Three: A National Institution

The fourth category includes profile pictures that identify the MFA as a national institution that is an integral part of the nation it serves. MFAs with such images may view themselves as social institutions that are part of the society which they serve. Such images may also be targeted at the domestic population and are thus used to build a domestic constituency for the MFA.

The first example, shown below, is the Jordanian MFA’s profile picture that commemorates the 100 year anniversary of the Great Arab Revolt which resulted in the formation of Jordan. This image celebrates the formation of Jordan and clearly identifies the MFA as an institution of the nation which also identifies with the nation.

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(Jordan MFA)

The second example, shown below, is the profile picture of the Icelandic MFA. The image celebrates the Icelandic soccer team’s success in the 2016 Euro games. Obviously, this is an attempt by the MFA to takes part in the national celebration and project a sense of pride in the national team’s accomplishments.

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(Iceland MFA)

The final example, shown below, is the profile picture of the Israeli MFA. The MFA has chosen to use the Israeli flag as its picture thus identifying with the nation it represents. It should be noted that the Star of David, showcased in the picture, is also a Jewish symbol and may thus resonate with Jewish Diasporas living abroad who view Israel as the Jewish homeland.

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(Israel MFA)

Category Four: The National Image

The fourth category I identified included MFAs who use their profile picture to narrate the national image. Thus, these MFAs use the profile picture to construct the national identity as opposed to their own identity. As such, the profile picture becomes a diplomatic tool used for nation branding.

The first example, shown below, is the profile picture of the Slovakian MFA which includes the slogan of Slovakia’s new nation branding campaign- good idea Slovakia.

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(Slovakia MFA)

The second example, shown below, is the Ukrainian MFA’s profile picture (shown below). Here the profile picture is used to promote a new image of Ukraine as a country that is changing for the better through reforms. This may be part of an attempt to depict Ukraine as a nation transitiong from internal conlfict and crisis to stability and agreement.

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(Ukraine MFA)

Another intesrting example, shown below, is the Ducth MFA’s profile picture. This picture includes the saying “United Nations Security Coucil Cnadiate”. The picture includes a confident soldier looking thorugh a pair of goggles at the horizon under (what might be) the UN flag. As such, this image may be part of the Dutch MFA’s UN campaign and is meant to depict the Netherland’s contribution to peacekeeping missions and its forward thinking orienttaion.

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(Dutch MFA)

A different example, shown below, is the Somalian MFA’s profile picture.This picture includes images from various tourist destinations in the country. Thus, the picture serves as part of a campaign meant to encourage tourism to the country while also showcasing its rich history and culture.

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(Somalia MFA)

The final example, shown below, is the State Department’s profile picture. Interestingly, this image focuses solely on Secretary Kerry. Yet the image of Kerry may be seen as tied to that of the US as it showcases the globetrotting Secretary who is always on his way to a new destination to promote engagement and democracy. Therefore, this image contributes to the image of the US as a global power that is engaged in events all over the world. What is most surprising is Kerry’s rather somber appearance. This is not the optimistic diplomats bur rather the resolute one.

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(US State Department)

Category Five- Status Updates

The fifth category I identified includes profile pictures that serve as “status updates”. Here MFAs use the profile picture to announce important events. By changing thier profile picture the MFA is sending a signal to its various audiences including journalists and the diplomatic milieu.

The first example, shown below, is from the Colombian MFA and it celebrates the peace agreement between the Colombian government and the rebel group FARC. The peace agreement signed last week is seen as major stepping stone towards ending a long and violent internal conflict.

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(Colombia MFA)

The second example, shown below, is the profile picture of the Mexican MFA. This picture was changed in ahead of a Mexican state visit to Canada. The image is thus similar to the hanging of Canadian flags in the Mexican capital. Yet more importantly, as a status update, the image is meant to demonstrate Mexico’s commitment to strong bi-lateral ties with Canada. Thus it is a diplomatoc signal aimed at Canada and the diplomatic community.

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(Mexico MFA)

Summary:

In this post I attempted to analyze a form of Selfie diplomacy. Through an evaluation of the profile pictures of MFAs I attempted to understand how they construct an online identity and communicate that identity to their online community.

Some MFAs seem to construct an identity that focuses on their institution’s professional capacity. Others use the profile picture to articulate their mission statement while still other use the picture to identify with the nation they serve. Finally, MFAs also use profile pictures as a diplomatic tools through which they brand the nation or send signals to the diplomatic community in the form of a “status updates”.

Crisis Communication, Crisis Management & Digital Diplomacy

Crisis Communication as Crisis Management 

Crisis communication may be regarded as a field of inquiry that has benefited from numerous disciplines including international relations, diplomacy studies, psychology and communication studies. While each discipline focuses on a specific facet of crisis communication, all are in consensus that a crisis represents a major challenge to governments. This challenge stems from the fact that during a crisis, “the pillars of normal life come crashing down”. The meta-narratives and frames used by citizens and the media to make sense of the world no longer apply (Boin et al., 2013) .  As people try to make sense of the new unfolding reality, they are bombarded by a myriad of different stakeholders each contradicting one another and each trying to frame the crisis to their own advantage.

It has therefore been argued by several scholars, and practitioners, that good crisis management rests on good crisis communication. During crises, be it an unexpected hurricane, a terror attack or an escalating military conflict, governments must quickly and efficiently disseminate a narrative that once again makes sense of the world. Boin et al., have argued that such narratives should include an explanation of what has happened, what consequences can be expected, how will the crisis be resolved, who can be depended upon and who should be blamed.

The terror attacks of recent months (Paris, Tel Aviv and Orlando) all demonstrate that Boin’s model must now also be extended the digital sphere. This is due to the fact that a) people use social media and social networks to gather information and make sense of events b) stakeholders and the media now use social networks to frame crises and c)social media soon becomes a breeding ground of rumors and half-truths alongside accurate information that has yet to be released by the government.  Thus, if governments want to manage an unfolding crisis trough communication channels they must contend with online narratives, rumors and breaking news.

Boin’s model also seems to be lacking an important component of crisis communication- demonstrating that the government and its leaders are in control. Indeed after the Paris attacks one of the first images to be disseminated online by the French government was that of the French President in the “situation room”. Next, governments often release images of heads of government visiting the site of the crisis in order to demonstrate that they are in control of events and not controlled by them.

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In this post I explore how the Israeli government reacted online to last week’s attacks in Tel Aviv.  This included tweets published on numerous digital diplomacy accounts including the Prime Minister’s English twitter account, the Twitter account of the PM’s spokesperson, the Israeli MFA and the IDF’s English twitter channel.  Digital diplomacy channels are now an integral part of crisis communication, even in times of domestic crisis, given that foreign populations, policy makers and global news outlets all follow these accounts. Thus, governments can impact the narratives o crisis through digital diplomacy channels.

The Israeli Government’s Online Narrative of the Tel Aviv Terror Attacks

Stage 1- The government is in control of events

One of the first tweets to be published following the Tel Aviv attacks was authored by the Prime Minister’s spokesman stating that the PM was back in Israel  after a visit to Russia and was about to convene his cabinet.  A similar tweet was the published on the PM’s own Twitter account.

Next, the Prime Minister’s office published a tweet according to which the government had received updates from security forces on the events and was crafting a response to the attacks. These tweets were meant to illustrate that government agencies and security forces were mounting a coordinated response to the attacks.

Later during the night, the Israeli Prime Minister’s office published a video of the PM visiting the site of the attacks. This video may have been published in an attempt to demonstrate that the government was in control of events rather than the opposite.

Stage 2- What happened?

Next, the government began publishing tweets detailing what had transpired in Tel Aviv. Although much of these details were already reported on by both the national and international media, there was still much speculation as to the amount of people injured, the amount of attacks carried out and the possibility that some terrorists were still roaming the streets of Tel Aviv.

Interestingly, the IDF published accounts of what had occurred long before the Israeli MFA or the PM’s office. One has to wonder to what extent was the IDF coordinating its information dissemination and messages with other ministries and agencies.

Later in the night the Israeli MFA published the twee below that offered the government’s full narrative of what happened. The image published with the tweet showed the PM, the Defense Minister and Internal Security Minister at the scene demonstrating yet again that the government was in control of the situation.

Stage 3 and 4- How will the crisis be resolved and what consequences will it have?

Here the message of the Israeli government was very similar to that of the French government following the attacks in Paris or President’s Obama’s address following the shooting in Orlando. The crisis will not be resolved simply by force, but by coming together as a nation, reaffirming the nation’s commitments to it values and staying true to those values as a way of preventing the terrorists from achieving their goal. The tweet below, published by the Tel Aviv municipality, best captures this message as it includes the image of the municipality building lit up with the flag of Israel.

Part of the “resolve in the face of terror” was also manifest through messages of condemnation and support from other governments and government officials. Below are some examples of such tweets that were immediately re-tweeted on Israeli government channels. These tweets may also serve to position Israel alongside other Western democracies thus impacting its image abroad.

Stage 5- Who is to blame?

Here,the Israeli government not only pointed to the culprits but also created a clear dichotomy of “us versus them”. This dichotomy was a normative one stressing that while Israeli doctors were busy saving the life of one of the Palestinian terrorists, Palestinians were celebrating the attacks throughout the West Bank and Gaza. It is this dichotomy that demonstrates the important role values and norms play in diplomacy and crisis communication. Through the depiction of Palestinian joy in the wake of the attacks, the Israeli government was aligning itself with Western governments which have suffered terrorist attacks (e.g., Paris, Brussels) while aligning the Palestinians with the likes of ISIS.

Part of this stage also included a criticism of the Palestinian government that does not take measures to end incitement against Israelis. Notably, the tweet below offers such criticism but uses the term Jews instead of Israelis perhaps as part of an attempt to rally support and a sense of togetherness with the Jewish global diaspora. If this interpretation is correct, it suggests that crisis communication now also includes a sub set of diaspora communication.

From a psychological perspective, such tweets may also be viewed as an attempt to increase the cohesiveness of Israelis and bolster support for the government given the narrative of us versus them and our values versus their values (see example below).

Stage 6- Monitoring news channels

An interesting stage that occurred following the Tel Aviv attacks was a spontaneous review of the news stories published around the world. Israeli citizens, NGOs, officials and diplomats all tweeted or Facebooked at news channels demanding they change their use of language with regard to the attacks. While this is not part of a coordinated government effort, it suggests that in the digital age crisis communication models need to take into account the acts of online publics as these can influence the narratives spread by global news outlets.

Markedly, much anger was directed at the CNN news network for using quotes when referring to the terrorists who committed attacks (“terrorists”). Indeed, in the wake of criticism from Israeli citizens CNN published the tweet below apologizing for its coverage of events.

Summary

This post attempted to analyze how the Israeli government used digital diplomacy channels as part of its crisis communication response to last week’s terror attacks in Tel Aviv. The post suggests that such channels are an integral part of crisis management even when the crisis is a domestic one. However, the post also suggests that crisis communication models need to be updated so that they include digital channels, whether those are used by governments, officials or individuals who help disseminate the government’s narrative.

Moreover, a powerful public sphere now shapes coverage of crises through online criticism and monitoring of global news outlets. Moreover, the use of digital channels for crisis communication enables nations to demonstrate their values and norms and how they are aligned with the values of other countries thus impacting the national image.

Finally, by using digital diplomacy channels nations may also attempt to gain support and solidarity from diasporas thus maintaining close bonds with them.  The question that remains unanswered is to what extent what the Israeli government’s online narrative part of a coordinated communication strategy bringing together various agencies and ministries.

The two images below illustrate Boin et al.’s model of crisis communication as opposed to a new model that takes into account some of this post’s findings.

 

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On Social Media Information Dominance

Last week, the University of Southern California’s Centre on Pubic Diplomacy published a blog post by Mark Dillen titled “Battle of the Bots”. In this post, Dillen cites a  recent study which found that a large majority of Tweets originating from Russia were in fact written by automated Bots who may serve two purposes: cluttering conversations or “altering search results, internet rankings, top lists and other automated tools for sorting, sharing, discovering, and consuming online content”.

This is by no means the first blog post, or study, to focus on Russian online disinformation campaigns. Communication and diplomacy scholars have been paying increasing attention to Moscow’s use of online platforms to manipulate foreign public opinion through half-truths and lies. Such studies are usually also critical of Western countries who have failed to counter Russia’s online narratives, mainly due to the limited funding of information agencies which have been neglected since the end of the Cold War.

In this blog post I focus on what I view as a specfifc subset of information dominance, that which is practiced on social media. Russia my be attempting to achieve one form of social media information dominance- ensuring that its narratives of events are the ones that take root in the minds of social media users. However, the US and its Western allies are also aiming for a form of social media information dominance– creating mass databases about online users.

In this post I explore both forms of information dominance and their impact on diplomacy.

Russian Social Media Information Dominance

Social media has for some time exceeded its original use as platforms for maintaining and creating social ties. Social media users now use these platforms in order to access information regarding the world they live in. Such information comes in various forms. For instance, a Facebook user may “Like” a newspaper following which he will receive a steady flow of articles and commentary published by that newspaper. The same user may also read the comments appearing at the end of a newspaper article. In addition, a social media user can review the comments posted by other social media users thereby gauging public sentiment on various issues. Finally, one may earn about the world through posts published by his “friends”.

In all such cases, the social aspect of social media comes into play. Yet what happens when this aspect is manipulated by a country?

Studies suggest that Russia has sought to spread disinformation on social media as it views the manipulation of foreign public opinion as a tool for waging war without employing military power. Automated social media Bots enable Russia to do just that. They create a false online public sphere thereby distorting our understanding of public sentiment. They cause us to believe that more people support certain causes than they actually do. They lead to believe that the political tides are changing. They can even lead us to support a certain policy, or view an event in a certain light, given our desire to belong to a majority. At its extreme, disinformation on social media can cause a spiral of silence in which the majority thinks it is a minority. Such spirals can, in turn, lead to civil unrest as social protest movements believe that the tipping point in their struggle has arrived.

It is the example of spirals of silence that exemplifies social media infromation dominance.

Thus far I have dealt with the impact of disinformation on social media at the national level. Yet diplomacy is a two level game involving the national and the international. How does social media disinformation impact the practice of diplomacy?

Recent years have seen the migration of MFAs to social networking sites. As part of this migration, diplomats have been urged by their MFAs to monitor, and evaluate, social media discourse. Such evaluation is supposed to offer insight into public opinion and gauge public sentiment. As such, social media discourse is viewed as a valuable resource in foreign policy analysis and formulation. For instance, many have argued that it was MFAs’ unawareness of the importance of social media that let them to be surprised by the intensity and result of the protests in Egypt’s Tahrir square. As one British diplomat famously asked- would we have been more prepared for the Arab spring had we been monitoring #Tahrir?

tahrir

Yet what would have happened if many of the Tweets bearing the Tahrir hashtag were actually automated Tweets published by Russian Bots? Diplomats may have deduced that the social protest movement in Egypt was much bigger than it actually is. MFAs may have recommended that their nations abandon Egyptian President Mubarak given a flawed evaluation of his staying power. This, in turn, might have actually weakened Mubarak forcing him out of office yet under false assumptions.

The plot continuous to thicken when nations attempt to analyse how they are viewed by foreign populations. It is quite possible that the US embassy in Kabul has deduced that America’s is viewed locally as a militaristic empire not because of what people actually believe, but because what Russian Bots are writing online en masse. This in turn may influence a wide array of US policies ranging from from its support of a certain government to a shift in regional focus.

Finally, Russian Bots may even sway elections which have both national and international ramifications. A recent estimate states that’s some 40% of all social media content written during the last Israeli elections originated from Bots. Such Bots may have caused people to believe that the Israeli right wing was about to lose the elections. For some, this was a sign to stay at home and not bother voting for the left. For others it was a sign not to abandon ship.

One can only imagine the impact Russian Bots can have on upcoming elections and referendums in Europe such as Brexit.

US Social Media Information Dominance

Thus study of disinformation often focuses on Moscow. Yet Washington is also attempting to gain social media information dominance albeit of a different form.

As of 2016, the American social network Facebook has 1.65 billion registered users throughout the world. WhatsApp, a messaging application that is owned by Facebook, connects another one billion people while Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook, has some 400 million global users. Likewise, Twitter, which is based in the US, connects 500 million users while the American Snapchat has 100 million daily users. American companies do not run the social media world, they own it out right. Subsequently, they own one of the largest human database ever to be amassed.

Social media companies know our likes and dis-likes, our political and sexual orientation, our work habits, our closest friends, our eating habits, drinking habits, sleeping patterns and even frequency of using a toilet. This database can predict our likelihood of voting for a certain party, the kind of romantic relationships we are likely to develop, the possibility of our getting married, our ability to cope with stress, the likelihood of us being dedicated employees, our likelihood to commit a crime and even the possibility of our joining of a terror group.

The existence of such a database may not be so daunting if it was not owned entirley by American companies and if the American government did not have an affinity for abusing this database.  As Edward Snowden and recent deliberation in the Court of Justice of the European Union revealed, the US National Security Agency directly tapped into Facebook to extract data on users from all over the world as did its British peer GCHQ.

Ironically, both GCHQ and the NSA now operate social media accounts.

Other American social media sites may have also provided information on their users following secret subpoena issued by secret courts established in the US after 9/11. And while some US laws are meant to protect American citizens from such espionage, no such laws protect the citizens of foreign countries.

US companies have established another form of social media information dominance that is manipulated and abused by the US government. And this form of social media information dominance is just as problematic as the Russian one. For through this database, the US government may spy on Israeli, Turkish, British, and French citizens. More importantly, the US government may use such information to predict financial and political processes which impact its foreign policy. Here again the link between social media information dominance and diplomacy is made apparent.

Yet there is another important issue which relates to the fact that MFAs, embassies and diplomats the world over all use American social media sites, and messaging apps, in their practice of digital diplomacy. What is to prevent the US government from accessing chats between a group of diplomats on Facebook? Or to read direct messages sent on Twitter between two negotiators at a summit? Or to read the messages of a WhatsApp group of Ambassadors in Geneva? After all, before escaping to Russia, Edward Snowedn was based in Geneva, the capital of multi-lateral negotiations. The US govenment may even  use the social media database to obtain private information on high ranking foreign diplomats and world leaders (e.g., Anglea Merkel).

Contending with Social Media Information Dominance

My argument in this post is that both Russia and the US are attempting to gain a form of social media information dominance. Moreover, I argue that both forms present challenges for the practice of digital diplomacy. Awareness to these challenges is not enough. Practicing digital diplomacy should also entail formulating digital policy, be it in regard to the false content spread by Russian Bots or the need to secure the privacy of global social media users, including diplomats.

#AskNetanyahu- A Wasted Opportunity?

Scholars of digital diplomacy often criticize diplomats for not realizing the potential of social media to stimulate conversation with online publics. Indeed I have often advocated the use of Twitter, Facebook and other platforms for conversing with online publics that are opinionated, well informed and clamoring to be heard.

One method of stimulating conversations between foreign policy makers and connected publics is social media Q&A sessions. The disadvantage of such sessions is that they attract online criticism at best and violent trolling at worst. Moreover, media outlets covering Q&A sessions often label them as disasters given the negative backlash they invite. However, such sessions also hold many advantages as they enable policy makers to narrate their governments’ actions, thoroughly explain their policies and openly address criticism of these polices.

Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to hold a special Twitter Q&A session as part of the celebration of Israel’s 68th Independence Day. The invitation to the Q&A was published on the PM’s Hebrew, English and Arabic Twitter channels thus enabling him to converse with the domestic Israeli population, foreign populations and the Arab world.

In this post I attempt to explore the extent to which the Prime Minister was able to leverage his Q&A session in order to converse with online publics and frame Israel’s policies. To do so I first analyzed the overall reach of the PM’s Q&A session. Next, I evaluated whether global audiences were in fact willing to converse with the PM. Finally I analyzed the actual dialogue between the PM and Twitter users.

Reach of #AskNetanyahu                                                               

Using the Twitonomy application, I analyzed the number of Tweets using the hashtag #AskNetanyahu over a two hour period. As can be seen in the image below, during that time period there were more than 3,000 tweets using the hashtag #AskNetanyahu. The majority of these tweets were published at 15:30 Israel time which is when the Q&A began.

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Moreover, during the two hour time period I analyzed, Tweets using the #AskNetanyahu hashtag had an accumulated reach of 15 million Twitter users. A far higher number than I had anticipated.

When analyzing which #AskNetanyahu Tweets were most trending online I found both negative and positive examples as can be seen in the image below. While the first two Tweets are quite critical of the PM, others were more favorable. In addition, the PM’s own Tweets were also trending online. This might suggest that the PM had a relatively receptive audience that was willing to carry his message throughout the Twittosphere.

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In addition, my analysis shows that the most favored #AskNetanyahu Tweets were also those authored by the PM, as can be seen below. Theses results  suggest that the PM was in a position to get his message across to the diverse audiences he had invited to the Q&A.

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Did #AskNetanyahu Reach Global Audiences?

Next I used the Twittonomy application to geo-locate Twitter users employing the #AskNetanyahu hashtag. As can be seen in the image below, the PM’s Q&A session seems to have created a truly global online conversation attracting Twitter users throughout Europe, Asia and N. America.

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Especially interesting was the amount of users using the #AskNetanyahu hashtag in the Arab world. As can be seen in the image below, users from Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates were all actively engaging with the PM’s Q&A session. This finding suggests that the PM was presented with a unique opportunity to engage with Arab twitter users including those living in nations that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel. This is the very manifestation of the potential of digital diplomacy.

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The PM’s Q&A session also attracted attention from users in India and Pakistan. These two nations are of special relevance to Israel as the current government is attempting to strategically bolster its ties with India while Pakistan has no official relations with Israel.

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Finally, as can be seen in the two images below, the majority of users engaging with the PM’s Q&A session were from Europe and the USA.

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What Questions Did Netanyahu Answer?

Even before the Q&A session began, the PM’s Twitter channel was bombarded with verbal attacks, trolls and a barrage of images depicting Israeli cruelty alongside victims of Israeli military campaigns. Such Tweets, which are shown below, are not surprising given the policies pursued by the Netanyahu government (note: I have not included graphic images though there was plenty).

What was surprising, however, was that the PM rarely answered critical questions even when these were presented in a sincere manner. In fact, what characterized the PM’s Q&A session was an emphasis on accepting praise, commenting on Jewish history, thanking followers for their support and choosing levity over substance as can be seen in the Tweets below.

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When finally commenting on policy related issues, the PM again chose relatively soft issues including the security challenge ISIS presents to Israel, the importance of US military aid to Israel, new relations between Israel, Cyprus and Greece and his quest for peace.

However, the PM did not address concerns that Israel was marginalizing the Palestinian-Israeli minority nor did he comment on issues relating to settlement expansion, the military blockade of Gaza, the high death toll of Palestinian citizens during Israeli military campaigns or Israel’s use of the LGBT community to better its image abroad. All of these issues which raised by Twitter users undermine Israel’s global image and impede its ability to achieve its foreign policy goals.

When conversing with Arab Twitter users the PM was more willing to answer difficult questions. He stated that Israel would accept an Arab peace initiative if it included Israel’s misgivings, he called on President Abbas to join him at the negotiation table and even answered a Tweet accusing him of stealing Palestinian land by saying he remains committed to a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. See a selection of such Tweets below.

Conclusion

When commenting on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Twitter Q&A, news outlets in Israel and abroad labeled it a failure given the amount of verbal attacks and trolls that spammed the PM’s account. My analysis offers a more complex picture. On the one hand, the PM used the Q&A session to converse with Arab Twitter users throughout the region while addressing their criticism and explaining his government’s policies.

On the other hand, having attracted global attention, the PM could have utilized the Q&A session to engage with global audineces and explain his polices, respond to criticism and frame Israel in a more positive manner. By choosing to avoid difficult questions, and settling for levity over substance, the PM squandered this unique opportunity. Given the negative perception of Israel around the world, and the rejection of many of its policies, this was a wasted opportunity.