Twitter diplomacy or un-diplomacy

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Twitter diplomacy or un-diplomacy

  • January 10, 2020
  • By Admin: Osman
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By Abdulkadir Osman Farah, PhD

Diplomacy remains vital praxis in transnational encounters and   connections. States continue to dispatch diplomats and ancillary staff for the promotion of state priorities. Qualified candidates attain extensive training and overtime supplement it with overseas experiences.

Immediate tasks include the analysis of intentions and activities by both allies and adversaries. Within this tendentious context, twitter-diplomacy represents the latest online extension to this classic diplomatic enterprise. States and nations use this relatively new social media tool to enhance, disseminate and consolidate policy initiatives[i].

Studies show that the diplomatic aspect, as well as the engagement dimension, constitute a means to achieving a larger purpose. Powerful states introduce and expose dominant transnational corporations and their technologies to a global audience and thereby consumers. This leads to diverse forms of online transnational encounters and connections- including diplomacy. Recently, what should supposedly be internal communication with colleagues, a Facebook executive suggested that the tech giant could determine whether political parties and candidates in the US and beyond win or lose elections[ii]. Consequently, with guided assistance by these same corporations many people around the world can now, for good or for worse, afford their small digital media-escapes[iii].

Research also finds that social media platforms benefit the masses as tech tools such as twitter, Facebook etc. dismantle the old traditional core- periphery, elite-mass differentiated world system. A world order where the powerful monopolized the conditions of producing and sharing information and thereby knowledge. Scholars argue that the currently more informal and fragmented transnational world provides media opportunities for the less institutionalized and hierarchical social movements as well as individual entrepreneurs and activists[i].         

While regimes tend to abuse the digital technology, social and political activists use it for networking and mobilization. The underlying risk is the concentration of mass information into the hands of the few as well as the danger of dissolving boundaries between the public and the private spheres.

One such deliberate case of the transnational blurring of the public and private life-worlds concerns the controversial US president. Considering it as more of informal and personalized space (both in form and in content) he constantly deploys twitter messages that transnationally encounter and downgrade actual or potential adversaries while connecting, elevating and praising allies within and beyond the US. As a superpower, with scattered transnational security, economic, political and social networks across the globe, the US maintains unequal extraterritorial as well as de-territorial privilege.  

In response, countries exploit Trump’s twitter as a source for not just diplomatic exchanges but also for indirectly accessing otherwise difficult and valuable sources to obtain. Some countries have even appointed twitter envoys with the specific task of monitoring and analysing “foreign policy insights”[ii].

Though with lesser impulsive style, China, a major international power, also deploys twitter-diplomacy. Not within the mainland where the regime prohibits- but abroad among its diplomats and transnational companies. In attempting to mobilize resources, for instance, towards and within Africa, the country recently complemented its existing traditional state centred public relations with intensive twitter diplomacy. With the aim of policy persuasion targeting wider African audiences, the maneuverer remains far from successful. The shift unintentionally and partially democratized online debates providing opportunities for public expression and queries- including from critics[iii].   

Smaller countries also exploit social media tools. Ministers and major private companies establish their own twitter account where they in daily bases share online developments. For instance, Danish diplomacy combines the traditional formal diplomatic engagements with persistent tweets and Facebook updating on diverse transnational issues addressing transnational actors including states, inter-governmental agencies, civil society, private enterprises and even diasporic formations. One of them is the Danish ambassador to four African countries, Mette Knudsen who often tweets with current and emerging transnational developments that concern Danish social, political, economic and cultural developments[iv].

In general, technology and communication remain entrenched in not just a national frame but also in an increasingly transnational world. For the purpose of achieving better social and political wellbeing and status, societies and states therefore often use technology for encountering opponents while connecting and mobilizing enthusiasts. For the tech companies the development of the latest profitable technologies might signify transitional with the eternal search of tech- alternatives and replacements.

The twitter turn represents a dialectical relation between ordinary people’s situated perceptions and experiences of being in the world confronted by a purposeful and more structured signification of chosen platforms and strategies by more or less organized networks. In the past, diplomacy might have stressed nationally purposeful aims and strategies often agreed in advance by those that pursue it. Initially such endeavours departed from state ideologies and visions, involving greater deal of planning and coordination.

In contrast the current twitter turn appears abrupt, virtual and situational. Sometimes thinking, planning and strategizing follows and not precedes communication. The activity takes place within uncertain and unpredictable environment where conflicting platforms continuously respond to and interact with each other in a complex transnational environment with diverse transnational actors.  The challenge is the overproduction of twitter outbursts and one-sidedness that valorise banality and even vulgarity in not just language use but also in actual social and political engagements.   

On the other, in socio-political terms the twitter turn could be positive as people directly communicate with leaders, states, companies and individuals. In an era where people demand explanations and responses regarding emerging issues, politically the twitter might democratize social and political interactions. But it may also risk, as Ulric Beck once warned, radicalizing, vulgarizing and banalizing social and political interactions- thereby crowding out a balanced ethical and rational communications[v].  In other words, acephalous twitter turn, or in general hyper-technological turn, undermines the development of a positive transnational cosmopolitan encounters and connections.

Hopefully, twitter and other tech tools, whether diplomatic or else, will evolve to a transnational space for socio-political empowerment. Apart from politicians, diplomats and the corporate, researchers also use Twitter and other communicative technologies in influencing decision makers- including diplomats- Among such scholars include Thomad Pogge, a human rights expert who campaigns for global fairness, the prevention of environmental degradation and the fight against inequality and poverty[vi].

In conclusion, instead of amplifying harsh and risk twitter-un-diplomacy, the increasingly more interdependent societies in the current the world might eventually settle in pursuing a balanced critical application of post-modern technologies. This may in return inaugurate and advance more inclusive and accommodating transnational social, political and cultural encounters as well as connections.   

[1] Harvey K. (2014) (Ed)Encyclopedia of Social Media and Politics (


[1] Comor, E., & Bean, H. (2012). America’s ‘engagement’delusion: Critiquing a public diplomacy consensus. International Communication Gazette, 74(3), 203-220.

[1] Golan, G. J., & Himelboim, I. (2016). Can World System Theory predict news flow on twitter? The case of government-sponsored broadcasting. Information, Communication & Society, 19(8), 1150-1170.




[1] Beck, U. (2006). Cosmopolitan vision. Polity. [1] Pogge, Thomas, and Krishen Mehta, eds. Global tax fairness. Oxford University Press, 2016.

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