One of the many possible applications of Digital Diplomacy is to use digital channels in order to promote dialogue between peoples in instances where traditional diplomacy has failed. The US State Department realized this potential when it launched Virtual Embassy Teheran in December of 2011. This website was meant to enable direct dialogue between the people of the United States and the people of Iran. As there are currently no diplomatic relations between the two countries, the virtual embassy was to supposed to introduce Iranians to the United States, its history, culture and values and even offer them opportunities to study in the US.
Most importantly, however, the website includes many social media channels in Persian. Such channels serve to promote dialogue between the US government and the people of Iran in their own native language thus reaching a large audience. While this virtual embassy resembles a brick and mortar embassy in terms of exposing foreign audiences to American values and culture, it also differs from a regular embassy as it promotes contact between the government of one country, the US, and the people of another, Iran, without going through the Iranian government.
The US was not the first, or last, country to open virtual embassies. In 2007, Sweden opened its embassy in the virtual world of Second Life. Recently, Israel opened a twitter embassy called Israel in the GCC which aims to promote dialogue between the State of Israel and the people of six Gulf States with which Israel has no official relations.
Over the past week, another form of dialogue made possible by Digital Diplomacy has occurred, a dialogue between two governments who have no diplomatic relations- Iran and Israel.
On the fifth of March, the Israeli Navy seized a commercial vessel named the Klos C which was found to be carrying arms in its hull. According to the Israeli government, the arms found on board the vessel were Iranian made rockets shipped by Iran to terror organization operating in the Gaza strip. Once the arms on board the Klos C were discovered, Israel used its digital channels to circulate images of the weapons sized covered with Iranian cement bags which, according to Israel, proved that the weapons originated from Iran.
What followed was a weeklong social media blitz in which all Israeli digital channels circulated images and messages of these weapons and their possible impact on Israeli civilians. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, tweeted
While Israel’s tweets received little attention from other countries, Iran decided to rebuke Israel’s allegations. Instead of tweeting a formal denial, Iran’s digital channels were soon filled with humoristic tweets wondering how far one person will go to get his hands on Iranian cement. In the case of PM Netanyahu, very far indeed.
Another tweet posted on the @MeetIran channel showcased the Iranian foreign minister almost thanking Netanyahu for promoting an Iranian brand referencing the American “Got Milk?” campaign.
These tweets were tweeted at Netanyahu by Iran hence leading to direct communication between the Islamic Republic and the State of Israel. These tweets are by no means examples of diplomatic relations between the two countries, but they are an example of their virtual relations. Relations that went even deeper last week when Netanyahu re-tweeted a comment made by the Iranian foreign minister asking- who is the liar? Israel or Iran?
While the tensions between Iran and Israel are sure to continue mounting, their virtual relations and virtual dialogue will also continue. One can only hope that at some point this dialogue will foster understanding and acceptance. Then the potential of Digital Diplomacy will truly be realized.