Traditionally, the mass media has played an important role in the world of diplomacy. This is a result of the fact that the majority of the population learns about its government’s foreign policy and global events from the news. However, journalists and news organizations do not simply relay information to the public but rather offer their interpretation of events.
Thus, the media has the ability influence the manner in which the public views an administration’s foreign policy initiative, the public’s assessment of foreign policy achievements and the manner in which foreign countries are perceived by the public (i.e., friend or foe). For this reason, administrations throughout the world continuously attempt to shape the manner in which journalists report on foreign policy issues.
Yet in the age of digital diplomacy, when the public can get its information directly from the government, the administration or its national leader, the question that arises is has the media lost its role as the filter through which the public views the world? Or, in other words, have governments been able to cut out the middle man and communicate directly with their population? This could be the case with some foreign ministries and ministers such as Sweden’s Carl Bildt whose twitter account is the 15th most popular account in Sweden according to SocialBakers.
In an attempt to answer this question, I decided to analyze the audience demographics of four MFAs on Facebook including the US State Department, the UK’s Foreign Office, the Israeli MFA and the Polish foreign ministry. By using the SocialBakers website I was able to estimate the amount of local Facebook followers that each of these ministries has been able to attract to its Facebook profile.
The US State Department:
As can be seen in the image below, 21% of the State Department’s Facebook followers are residents of the US. Moreover, local followers are the State Department’s second largest demographic following Asia.
However, as the State Department has a Facebook following of some 780 thousand followers, the number of local followers is a mere 163,000. One also has to take into account that many of these followers could be members of the local press, other diplomatic institutions in the US and even other US governmental agencies. Thus, the actual number of local followers is even smaller and represents a mere fraction of the US’s population which is estimated at more than 300 million people.
The Israeli MFA:
In Israel’s case, local followers represent one of the smallest demographic groups comprising the MFAs Facebook audience. Only 8% of the MFAs followers are Israeli residents which translates to some 19,000 followers.
Israeli MFA Demographics (English Facebook Profile)
This figure is rather low given the fact that Facebook is the most popular Social Networking Site in Israel with the majority of Israelis operating Facebook accounts . Moreover, Israelis are perceived as keen followers of Israel’s public diplomacy efforts. Yet at the moment, only 0.23% of Israelis follow their MFA online.
The UK Foreign Office:
While the Foreign Office’s English Facebook page seems to attract much attention in both Asia and the Middle East, local followers amount to only 14% of all followers. These translate into 13,000 locals which is also a rather small number given the UK’s population that is estimated at 46 million.
Poland’s Foreign Ministry:
Interestingly, local Polish followers represent the largest demographic of Poland’s Facebook audience. This is rather surprising as this Facebook page is mostly used as a nation branding tool which is dedicated to promoting the Polska brand to global audiences.
Poland’s MFA Demographics (English Facebook Profile)
Of all the ministries analyzed in this post, Poland seems to have the largest local following. However, since Poland’s MFA has only 22,252 followers on Facebook, local followers amount to some 8,000 Pols. As is the case with the US, this number may be even smaller given the fact that local followers include other diplomatic institutions and the local media.
This short analysis seems to indicate that MFAs do not attract large local audiences. Thus, it is possible that even in the age of digital diplomacy, when a country’s population can receive information regarding foreign policy directly from the government , the vast majority of people still get their information from traditional sources such as the news . These findings could also indicate that the media has yet to lose its unique position as the prism through which people understand the world around them. In summary, digital diplomacy has yet to evolve to direct diplomacy.