In May of 2014, I published my analysis of the social network of world foreign ministries (MFAs) on Twitter. My assumption was that MFAs would actively follow one another online in order to gather relevant information. For instance, by following other ministries an MFA may be able to identify policy changes in certain countries, anticipate new foreign policy initiatives and predict possible crises. Moreover, if an MFA is followed by many of its peers online it may be able to disseminate information throughout the entire diplomatic milieu with the click of a button. Even more importantly, an MFA would be able to frame, or narrate, its own policy initiatives.
Notably, I had also assumed that smaller MFAs would be as central online as those representing world powers. This is due to the fact that the network structure is “flatter” than hierarchical structures. Within a given network, a small node may become an important member by authoring information that is relevant to other network members, circulating information from the network’s core to its periphery and vice versa and collaborating online with other members.
The ability of a small MFA to become central to online exchanges of information would also partially validate the “networked diplomacy” model postulated by scholars such as Jamie Metzl, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Jorge Heine. According to this literature, contemporary diplomacy is networked as global actors seek to form trans-national networks to achieve their policy goals. One network may include NGOs and online publics, while another can include MFAs and civil society organizations. If diplomacy is indeed more networked today, one might expect to find that among MFAs, some small ministries are able to “punch above their weight”.
My 2014 analysis showed that the average MFA was followed by a mere 14 of its pees on Twitter. In November of 2015, I analysed the social network of MFAs yet again finding that the average MFA was now followed by 28 of its peers and in 2017 that number grew to 34. These results suggested that MFAs increasingly follow one another on Twitter thereby creating dense information networks.
This year, I returned to my sample of 77 MFAs in order to examine the 2018 social network of MFAs. To my surprise, I found that the average MFA in the sample was now followed by 36 of its peers a slight increase from last year’s 34. However, the median number of peers each MFA attracts rose from 13 in 2014, to 42 in 2018 demonstrating how dense the MFA network has become over the past four years.
Below are the images of the 2014, 2015, 2017 and this year’s social networks of MFAs.
Image 1: MFA Social Network 2014
Image 2: MFA Social Network 2015
Image 3: MFA Social Network 2017
Image 4: MFA Social Network 2018
The Core of the Network
In order to analyze this social network of MFAs, I calculated three parameters. The first is the in-degree parameter which measures the popularity of each MFA in the network. This is an important parameter as the more popular an MFA, the greater its ability to disseminate information to the global diplomatic milieu. The table below presents the 10 most popular MFAs in this network. Likewise, it details changes in the ranking of each MFA (note that some MFAs are tied. For instance the US and Germany are tied in third place).
Table 1: 2018 In-Degree Ranking
As can be seen in table 1, this year’s network has grown even denser as is manifest in the number of MFAs that are tied in their ranking. Notably, 14 MFAs ranked among the top ten for the first time since 2014. Of these, six MFAs are from countries with relatively limited Hard Power resources (i.e., Latvia, Estonia, Slovakia, Belarus, Bulgaria, and Albania). Moreover, these MFAs outperform ministries from G20 countries such as Australia, India, Mexico and Korea. Thus, this years’ network demonstrates a great degree of social media mobility or an MFA’s ability to punch above its Wight.
Equally important is the fact that two MFAs from larger countries received top 10 scores for the first time- Japan and Brazil. In both 2014 and 2016 these MFAs received relatively low in-degree scores suggesting that they have invested more resources in digital activities over the last year.
Finally, this was the first year that the US did not come in first place or tie in first place with another MFA.
The second parameter I calculated was the out-degree parameter. This indicates which MFAs are the most avid followers of their peers. This parameter is also of great importance as the more Foreign Ministries one follows the grater his ability to gather information from his peers. The table below presents the 10 MFAs that are most avid followers of their peers. Likewise, it details changes in the ranking of each MFA.
Table 2: 2018 Out-Degree Ranking
As can be seen in table 2, there were few changes in the out-degree rankings over the last year. Peru, Russia, Iceland, EU, Israel, Sweden, Ukraine and Argentina all ranked high in 2017 as well as this year. However, there were three MFAs to receive to ten rankings this year: Spain, Latvia and Belarus. Notably, of all the MFAs to rank high this year 10 are from countries with limited Hard Power resources. This could suggest that for small to medium MFAs, social media is a cost effective way of gathering information and communicating with peers.
Finally, I calculated the betweenness parameter. This parameter identifies which MFAs serve as important hubs of information as they connect Ministries that do not follow one another directly. The table below presents the 10 MFAs that received the highest betweenness scores. These are also identified in the social network in the image that follows.
Table 3: 2018 Betweenness Ranking
As can be seen in table 3, there were few changes in the identity of major hubs among MFAs. That said, there are two MFAs who received to 10 rankings for the first time- Greece and Brazil. Equally relevant is the identity of MFAs who lost their top 10 ranking and they include Sweden and Montenegro.
The betweenness parameter again demonstrates a form of social media mobility as countries with limited Hard Power resources- Norway, Peru, Greece and Israel- out preform G7 countries such as Japan, Italy, Germany and Canada.
The core of the 2018 network, which is home the most popular and most influential MFAs can be seen in the image below.
Image 5: The Network Core
The only MFAs to score high on all three parameters in 2018 are the EU, the UK, Russia, Norway, Brazil and Israel.
Russia and Israel are also the only MFAs to consistently rank high on all parameters in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018. As such, they continue to lead in the field of digital diplomacy.
The Periphery of the Network
Finally, it is important to note that although the MFA network continues to grow denser, there are still some MFAs who fail to attract their peers on Twitter. This is especially true of South American/Latin American MFAs and some Arab MFAs. However, these MFAs do not tweet in English which may account for their inability to attract peers.
The MFAs located at the periphery of the network may be seen in the image below.
Images 6-7: The periphery of the MFA network
The results of this year’s analysis echo those of 2014-2017. Within the network of MFAs on Twitter, there is a large degree of social media mobility as countries with limited Hard Power resources are more central than some world powers. Moreover, economic size and military force do not seem to guarantee online centrality, as is the case in the offline world. However, further analysis is warranted in order to understand just how “networked” diplomacy is and what factors do account for an MFA’s online centrality, or lack thereof.