Three Leaders Three Narratives: Digital Diplomacy at the UN General Assembly

The yearly session of the UN General Assembly may be regarded as the pinnacle of the diplomatic calendar year. Within the space of a few days, global leaders are all offered the opportunity to address the General Assembly and, through global news channels, the world. Additionally, the General Assembly is often the sight of intensive bi-lateral and multi-lateral negotiations as delegations from various nations huddle into the corridors and back-rooms of the UN’s headquarters.

In recent years, the UN General Assembly is also accompanied by a flurry of digital activity. Leaders, MFAs, embassies and diplomats all storm their social media accounts in order to propagate their achievements and demonstrate their inclusion in high level policy making. But more importantly, leaders may use digital platforms in order to share their vision for the future and outline their foreign policy goals. As such, it is during the UN General Assembly that social media becomes an important tool for foreign policy narration.

This year’s General Assembly proved a crucial moment for three leaders. The first is the UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May. As the new Prime Minister of an old power, May would have needed to prove her diplomatic skills. Moreover, the PM would need to launch a new foreign policy narrative for post-Brexit Britain. What role would an independent UK play in the world? What would be its main foreign policy goals now that it has declared independence from Brussels?

This year’s assembly was also an important moment for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Earlier this year, the President achieved a milestone in Iranian diplomacy following the agreement with the P5+1 regrading Iran’s nuclear program. This was the manifestation of his campaign promise to revive Iran’s economy and the embodiment of his charm offensive meant to create a new Selfie for the Islamic Republic. However, the agreement remains a source of tension in Iran and relations between Iran and the West have yet to fully blossom. Moreover, Iran’s involvement in the wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya, alongside its quarrels with Saudi Arabia, have caused many to doubt its promise to play a constructive role in the region.

The third leader is Benjamin Netanyahu. Despite the UN’s continues criticism of Israel, the Israeli PM is a big fan of UN Assemblies and often uses them to demonstrate his oratory skills affinity to diagrams. However, this year is ripe with danger for Netanyahu as foreign policy analysist in both the US and Israel believe that President Obama will not leave office before supporting a UN security council resolution denouncing Israeli settlements and calling for a two state solution. Additionally, during this year’s assembly, the international Quartet (US, EU, UN and Russia) published a report denouncing Israeli settlement expansion as an obstacle towards peace. Finally, this year has seen a plethora of BDS activities against Israel in Europe and other parts of the World. It is within this environment of increased diplomatic pressure that the PM had to face the UN Assembly.

In this post, I analyse the use of Twitter by each of the three leaders to launch a new foreign policy narrative.

Theresa May- #Global Engagement

The narrative launched by May at the UN is one of global engagement. While the UK is committed to Brexit, it is not committed to exile. On the contrary, the UK aims to remain a globally engaged power ready to tackle global issues. In one Tweet, seen below, May made it clear that the UK plans to be a “confidant and credible partner”. Theses specific words may be seen as an attempt to portray the UK as a stable political partner following months of instability amid numerous resignations and cabinet shuffles.

Next, May stated that governments and organizations must remain responsive to the people they serve. This Tweet may mean that Brexit means Brexit and that the PM is committed to honouring the referendum results.

However, Brexit does not mean that the UK will retreat from the world. On the contrary, the UK aims to lead the charge against a major global challenge- migration. It is through the challenge of migration that the PM outlined her vision for the UK’s role in the post-Brexit era- one of a confident leader.

In addition, May also made it clear that the UK will keep its commitments to other global forums and that independence from Brussel does not mean the abandoning of all multi-lateral agreements. Thus the UK remains committed to the Paris climate accord.

And so May’s narrative is one of global engagement as opposed to global disengagement. In other words, the UK will not be an island entire of itself.

Hasan Rouhani- #Stability

Iranian President Rouhani used the UN Assembly to present Iran as stabilizing force in an unstable region. This began with a Tweet published before the Assembly in which he identified terrorism as the main threat to the Middle East. Rouhani ended the Tweet with the hashtag WAVE meaning World Against Violence and Extremism. This hashtag has been used previously on Iranian digital channels and is part of its online Selfie.

According to Rouhani, this century began with an act of terrorism that ushered a new age of global instability. Interestingly, the President identified both the 9/11 attacks and subsequent war in Iraq as the main driver of global insecurity and borderless terrorism. As such, the President may have attempted to create a narrative that resonates with Western audiences.

Next, the President made it clear that Islamic terror is not the face of Islam. On the contrary, Islam is a companionate religion. This statement again seems to resonate with messages made by Western leaders that ISIS is neither Islamic nor a State.

Finally, the President depicted the Middle East as one engulfed in hostile competitions and expanding conflicts. This Tweet may have been a reference to Saudi Arabia’s growing involvement in regional wars including those in Syria and Yemen. As such, while Iran is a source of stability and compassion, Saudi Arabia is a source of instability and zeal.

Rouhani’s narrative is therefore one of #stability. In the pots Iran-Deal era, Teheran may serve as a possible partner for Western countries looking to end the various conflicts in the Middle East. Like Western countries, Iran too views 9/11 and the Iraq war as the source of Mid-East tensions. Also, like Washington, Paris and London, Teheran too views global terror as a global threat. As such, the President’s narrative may be seen as an expansion of his charm offensive.

Benjamin Netanyahu- #NewMidEast

While this post is being written, I have learned that former Israeli PM and President Shimon Peres has died.  Peres often spoke of Israel’s need to craft a new Middle East through peace negotiations with its Arab neighbours. While PM Netanyahu was once a bitter rival of Peres, he seems to have adopted his notion of a new Middle East in his address to the UN General Assembly.

Like Rouhani, PM Netanyahu identified terrorism as the main source of instability in the region. Moreover, like the Iranian President, Netanyahu argued that Israel is a source of stability given its resistance to terrorism. However, the Israeli PM also suggested that given the mutual challenge of terrorism, Israel and Arab countries may find a new basis for cooperation. In fact, the PM stated that Arab nations in region are changing their attitude towards Israel.

And so, it is through cooperation in the face of terror that a new Middle East is taking shape.

Next, the Prime Minister stated that his vision for the future is an optimistic one.  A future in which more nations will recognize Israel’s struggle against terror and will thus stand by Israel when it is attacked in the UN forum.

In addition, the PM stated that he is confident that Israel will create a lasting peace with all its neighbours.

Finally, the PM called on all nations in the region to dream with Israel of a future filled with security and prosperity rather than hate and death.

Thus, the PM’s foreign policy narrative is that of a New Middle East. Yet unlike Peres, the way to this new utopia is not through peace accords, territorial concessions or a Palestinian state but, rather, through a joint struggle against terrorism. Therefore, Netanyahu’s narrative serves as a rebuke to the Quartet and Obama’s criticism of Israel. For it is not a settlement freeze that will bring peace, but a recognition by neighbouring states of Israel’s standing as a pillar against ISIS and it’s like.

Can Brand Trudeau Help Shape Brand Canada?

In September of 2009, John A. Quelch and Katherine E. Jocz penned an article titled “Can Brand Obama Rescue Brand America?” In this article, the authors postulate that the traits associated with brand Obama may help bolster the international image of America which, following the Bush presidency, was that of a polluting, greedy militaristic empire. Brand Obama, on the other hand, was associated with the values of uplift, hope, opportunity, tolerance and community.

National leaders often have a profound impact on their nation’s image. In some occurrences, leaders can have a Halo Effect in which their own attributes become the attributes associated with the nation they lead. Such was the case with Germany’s Angela Merkel whose leadership of the EU influenced the view of Germany as a global leader. Conversely, Vladimir Putin’s image as a Soviet era leader has facilitated the view of Russia as a re-emerging threat to the West.

Unlike the US, Canada’s brand has not been associated with militarism or a desire for global homogeny. In fact, Canada’s national brand has constantly ranked positively on various measurement scales such as the Good Country Index and the Soft Power 30. Indeed people around the world tend to view Canada as “good”. But not much beyond that.

Overshowed by its American neighbour, Canada’s brand has remained somewhat undefined.

This is perhaps the reason why many commentators and diplomats viewed the election of Justin Trudeau as an opportunity to revitalize brand Canada. The hope was that the young and energetic leader would have a Halo Effect of his own on brand Canada.

When managing their national brands, MFAs and governmental ministries often turn to social media. Indeed it is through social media that national brands can be created, evaluated and monitored. Moreover, through SNS content, MFAs can project their brand on a daily basis. Ervin Goffman may have referred to this as the presentation of the state in everyday life.

When evaluating Canadian digital diplomacy activity it becomes apparent that brand Trudeau has in fact become an important part of brand Canada. Content published by the Canadian PM on Twitter is continuously re-tweeted by various Canadian accounts including the MFA, the MFA’s development agency and the @Canada twitter channel which focuses mainly on nation branding activities. Moreover, these accounts often publish their own content featuring the PM. In fact, at the moment, the Canadian MFA’s twitter profile picture is that of the PM hosting the UN Secretary General.

canada 1.png

By analysing the portrayal of the PM on twitter, I have found that brad Trudeau is currently composed of four elements.

Young, vibrant and informal- Tweets published on Canadian digital diplomacy channels often portray Trudeau as informal. Many images of the PM show him without the traditional pin stripped suite that world leaders are often associated with. The image below, for instance, depicts the PM with his sleeves rolled up evoking the image of both informality and a “hands on” leadership approach.

Additionally, Trudeau is often pictured with younger Canadians or youths in general as can be seen below. Such images may be intended to highlight Trudeau’s relatively young age thereby suggesting that he represents a new generation of Canadian leaders. There is also an immediate contrast in these images with that of former Canadian PM Steven Harper who left office as a grey haired 57 year old. Thus, Trudeau symbolizes a changing of the guards in Canada.

The tweet below seems to best capture the youthful image of Trudeau being disseminated online. In the video Trudeau, is not just young and informal but he is also fit and perhaps, by extension, fit to lead.

A Digital Native- As opposed to Angela Merkel or François Hollande, Trudeau is portrayed online as a digital native, a young leader endowed with the ability to understand and harness the potential of digital technologies. Indeed one of the most famous videos of the PM features him explaining the logic behind quantum computers.

Canadian digital diplomacy channels also tend to portray Trudeau as a tech leader. For instance, in the tweets below, Trudeau holds a Q&A session with the chairman of Ali Baba, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies. In another tweet, the PM and Ali-baba chairman announce a new technological initiative.

Additionally, numerous tweets featuring the PM focus on Green technologies and the promotion of sustained development, as can be seen below. Such tweets are often published in advance of global summits alongside a promises by the PM to advance technological collaborations that can help stem the tide of climate change.

Tolerance, equality and diversity- The third component of brand Trudeau consists of his belief in, and promotion of, the values of tolerance, equality and diversity. For instance, several tweets published over the last year include meetings between Trudeau and Syrian refugees which have been granted access to Canada.

Additionally, the PM is often portrayed online as an advocate of LGBT rights and equal employment opportunities for women. Tweets from the past year have featured the PM leading a Gay Pride Parade and raising the LGBT flag outside the Canadian parliament.

In other instances, the PM takes to twitter in order to wish “happy holidays” to ethnic minorities in Canada. In such videos the PM repeatedly uses the word diversity stating that Canada draws its strength from is multi-faceted nature.

Finally, Trudeau is often depicted as empathic. During his recent trip to Poland, new outlets filmed the PM shedding a tear at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Similarly, Canadian digital diplomacy channels published images from the PM’s visit to Poland accompanied by a Holocausts survivor and his son.

A Global Leader- The final component of brand Trudeau is that of a global leader, someone who is as comfortable among world leaders as he is among Canadian youths. Notably, Trudeau is often featured online as the host of other world leaders and is thus portrayed as Canada’s new gateway to the world.

In addition, Trudeau is often depicted online as a leader committed to fighting inequality, be it between rich and poor countries or between powerful and ailing countries. Such was the case during the recent global conference hosted by Canada to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

From Brand Trudeau to Brand Canada

The image that arises from Canadian digital diplomacy channels is that of vitality- Trudeau is portrayed as a youthful, digitally literate leader looking to forge a new role for Canada in the world. In time, these attributes may indeed became part of brand Canada.

And perhaps this process is already taking shape. Canada is becoming synonymous with the battle against inequality, the promotion of LGBT rights and an open policy towards those most in need such as Syrian refugees. At a time when other nations are scrambling to formulate immigration and energy policies, Canada has emerged as a confident world leader.

One may question whether the images of national leaders, and nations in general, really matter. The cynic would say that nowadays the Selfie is more important than the Self and that MFAs are obsessed with images rather than policies. A public diplomacy scholar would argue that images matter as they enable nations to achieve their foreign policy goals. Nations that are perceived as “good” may find it easier to promote their foreign policy be it at the UN or when conversing online with foreign populations.

A digital diplomacy scholar could argue that through national images, countries can articulate their moral compass and, subsequently, find their role in global affairs.

Late Addition

BuzzFeed just released the video below in which Trudeau rates tweets directed at him. A perfect example of brand Trudeau.





A Missed Opportunity: China’s Use of Digital Diplomacy during the G20 Summit

Earlier this month, China hosted the leaders of the G20 countries for their annual summit. International summits have traditionally played an important role in diplomacy. On the one hand, summits hold ceremonial or dramatic importance as they demonstrate one of diplomacy’s function in international relations- ensuring stability and peace. On the other hand, summits also play a functional role as they enable decision makers to directly interact with one another in order to find shared solutions to shared challenges.

Summits such as the latest G20 also demonstrate the manner in which diplomacy has changed during the 20th century. Indeed in previous centuries, regional summits were a rarity. When they did occur, they were usually attended by diplomats rather than heads of state. Such was the case with the Vienna conference of 1814 in which Ambassadors of European nations came together to establish a new post-war order. During such summits, Ambassadors were still extraordinary and plenipotentiary meaning that they were authorized to negotiate and sign treaties on behalf of their states.

Yet the 20th century saw a shift in summitry diplomacy as these were now attended by world leaders. Consequently, leaders needed to learn the crafts of multi-lateral diplomacy, negotiation and relationship building.

The 21st century has seen another stage in the evolution of diplomacy given the utilization of digital tools to achieve foreign policy goals. The latest G20 summit in China best exemplified the manner in which digital tools are employed by countries during international summits.

The Presentation of the State in Everyday Life

The utilization of digital diplomacy tools by China was mostly limited to a website and an SNS account.

In August of 2016 the Chinese government launched the @G20_China twitter channel. Over the course of the summit, the channel was updated regularly by the Chinese government. Yet an analysis of the content published online suggests that the vast majority of tweets included images from meetings between world leaders and the occasional ceremonial handshake, as can be seen in the tweets below.


Additionally, some tweets were meant to offer SNS followers access to the “backstage” of multi-lateral diplomacy. However, such tweets were also comprised of carefully selected images that merely gave the appearance of the backstage while actually still portraying events from the stage of the summit.



Finally, a substantial portion of Chinese tweets were used to brand the host country. Indeed hosting international summits offers a unique branding opportunity as global attention focuses on one nation. For China, this was another occasion to brand itself as a rising power. Even more importantly, the summit could be incorporated into the Chinese narrative of a rising Soft Power, one dedicated to achieving goals through diplomacy, culture and trade rather than military force.

The three tweets below demonstrate China’s Soft Power branding during the G20. The first tweet highlights China’s global stature given the President’s hosting of world leaders; the second tweet highlights China’s Soft Power doctrine as it focuses on collaborative scientific projects and the third corresponds with its image as a global financial powerhouse.

In summary, the Chinese government used digital diplomacy to enhance the dramatic effect of international summits. The stage of diplomacy was simply extended to digital platforms. SNS followers could not gain access to the backstage nor learn anything substantive about the deliberations tacking place between world leaders. This was but one more element in the online presentation of the state in everyday life.

How Digital Tools could have Been Employed

International summits often lead to a peak in online activity pertaining to an issue of great importance (e.g., climate change). Moreover, during such summits national, regional and global networks all collaborate online in order to promote ideas, policy recommendations and solutions to mutual challenges. Lastly, it is during summits that such networks are most active as they attempt to exert influence on diplomatic negotiations. China could have utilized this online flurry of activity in order to re-define how digital tools are used during summits.  Below are three examples of such utilization.

1. Dialogue between the host country and online publics– Global summits attract global attention as networked individuals congress online in order to learn about events shaping their world. China could have utilized digital tools in order to converse with such online publics. For instance, the Chinese government could have queried publics in order to identify issues of great concern. These issues could have then been added to the summit agenda. Moreover, the Chinese government could have held online Q&A sessions between its leaders and online publics in order to explain the importance of the issues being discussed at the summit. Such interaction may have also enabled China to narrate its global policy objectives and address public criticism of its existing policies (e.g., Human Rights). Lastly, the Chinese government could have invited SNS users to collaborate in the creation of a social media campaign that would address one important issue being discussed at the summit.

While Chinese leaders may be unaccustomed to dialogue and criticism, online interactions with SNS users would have served as a more powerful branding tool than any one image. In fact, such conversations would have demonstrated China’s commitment to forging new relations with other countries while also transitioning towards more open and transparent forms of government. In addition, online interactions would have helped China forge relationships with global audiences thus facilitating the acceptance of Chinese foreign policy around the world. Online interactions would have also offered the Chinese government an opportunity to demonstrate de facto its “Soft Powerness” which relies on dialogue rather than confrontation.

2. The Leaders’ Forum- China could have also utilized digital platforms in order to enable online publics to converse with the leaders assembled at the summit. For instance, China could have organized a Leaders’ Forum in which leaders would address questions posed by SNS users. In addition, SNS users could have been asked to suggest issues that would then be debated between global leaders in an open forum. Such a Leader’s Forum would have enabled global citizens to directly interact with their leaders and possibly influence the global agenda.

3. Networking Opportunities Scholars have suggested that networks excel at finding innovative solutions to global challenges. The Chinese government could have mapped online networks that were relevant to the G20 agenda. Next, the government could have presented each network with a challenge that would be addressed during the summit. These networks could have then been invited to present world leaders with innovative solutions to the aforementioned challenges. By so doing, China could have harnessed digital platforms’ potential to stimulate debate and crowdsource solutions to wicked problems.

Branding the G20

The potential use of digital platforms suggested in the previous section would have impacted China’s global brand. Yet even more importantly, such online conversations would have proved useful for the promotion of the G20 brand in its entirety. The G20 leaders that assembled in China all head national governments that are accountable to their citizens. In the digital age, citizens expect their governments to be more open and transparent in their dealings at home and abroad. Traditionally, governments have resisted such transparency given a risk averse culture and an institutional mentality that favours information keeping rather than sharing. Yet by conversing with online publics, inviting publics to partake in setting the summit agenda and offering publics the opportunity to influence the debates at the summit, China could have branded the G20 as an open and transparent organization- one befitting the 21st century.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Australia.jpg (Australia)


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.


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.


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.


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”.


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.


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”.


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.


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.


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.






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.



south africa.png

(South Africa)







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).


(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.


(EU External Action Service)


(MFA of Romanian)


(MFA of Armenia)


(MFA of Kuwait)


(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.


(MFA of Spain)


(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).


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(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.


(Mexico MFA)


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”.