The term Digital Literacy reflects the immense impact the digital revolution has had on our lives. While some originally thought that the digital world would be separate from the physical one, it is now clear that the digital world is but an extension of the physical one. Revolutions that start on-line impact the physical world and friendships forged in high-school classrooms often deepen through social media platforms.
While there are many definitions of the term Digital Literacy, I find the following definition by Jones-Kavalier & Flannigan’s most comprehensive: A person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments.
Digital Diplomacy is yet another example of the manner in which the physical world coincides with online world and vice versa. Since foreign ministries throughout the world have adopted the practice of Digital Diplomacy perhaps the time has come to focus on Digital Diplomacy literacy. In the era of Digital Diplomacy, social media directors at the ministry and embassy level must acquire the tools necessary in order to translate complex foreign policy messages into 140 character bursts of diplomacy, to paraphrase the New York Times’ Somini Sengupta. Moreover, members of Digital Diplomacy units require the ability to fully interpret such Digital Diplomacy messages which at times have several layers of meaning.
Recently, I have begun evaluating tweets published by foreign ministries during the months of January-March during which the Crimean referendum took place in Ukraine. I found that at times twiplomacy messages are very clear and simple. Such was the case with the following two tweets published by the US National Security Advisor and the US Ambassador to the United Nations.
At other times, however, twiplomacy messages are multilayered. Such is the case with the following two tweets published by Russia’s MFA on February 18:
The #Lavrov followed by the colon sign is meant to demonstrate that the following is an official statement by the Russian government. Thus, the hashtag serves as a sort of headline to a press release. The first tweet deals with the matter at hand, the US’s desire to use NATO in order to create a global Ballistic Missile Defense system (BDM), while the second tweet explains Russia’s solution to the problem-creating a Euro-Atlantic area of peace and stability. Thus, one may infer that Russia is using theses tweets in order to portray the US as the one who is undermining global peace and stability and not Russia.
Moreover, the second tweet references several international organizations including the United Nations, NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). These organizations are mentioned in order to demonstrate the wide acceptance of Russia’s foreign policy while at the same time indicating that the US is in a minority and does not have the support of the international community.
The following tweet published by the German foreign ministry on the 12th of March also has more information than “meets the eye”:
This was the first tweet published by the German MFA to include the hashtag #G7 referencing the explosion of Russia from the G8 organization following the incursion into Crimean. It also demonstrates Europe and America’s refusal to accept Russia’s actions and their willingness to implement economic sanctions on Russia. Therefore it is a clear indicator that the crisis is only deepening.
The #G7 hashtag also demonstrates the close cooperation between the G7 states as they all speak in one voice, all interpret the cause of the crisis in the same manner, all agree on the solution to the crisis and all view the Crimean referendum as illegal. In terms of providing information, this tweet confirms reports published at the time according to which Russian security forces had entered other areas in Ukraine. Interestingly, while this tweet identifies Russia as responsible for the crisis it also outlines a clear diplomatic solution- Russia may de-escalate the crisis by retreating from Ukrainian territory. As such, this tweet includes both the carrot and the stick: if Russia deescalates the situation, the sanctions will be removed.
In summary, the ability to translate foreign policy messages into 140 character tweets and to fully understand the meaning of such tweets may be referred to as Digital Diplomacy literacy. While members of Digital Diplomacy units may have already developed this form of literacy , as foreign ministries expand their use of Digital Diplomacy they may find it necessary to develop Digital Diplomacy literacy among their entire diplomatic corps.