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Digital Diplomacy and the role of the “new diplomat”

by on March 27, 2013

The traditional diplomacy includes instruments by which states are or maintain reciprocal relations. It is through diplomacy that governments interact with each other, using their official representatives in a peaceful atmosphere[1]. However, we live in a globalized world where information technology has dizzying evolution, day by day. In this sense, what role should play the “new diplomat” in times where information is exchanged among people twenty-four hours a day?

It is Important to note that, we have been witnessing changes in international relations since the 1970’s, and these changes includes the emergence of new theories and concepts[2]. For instance, Ney and Robert keohane came out with the complex interdependence when referring to mutual exchange between governments, or the interaction between actors from different states. Nye is of the opinion that, politics in the information age is not just a matter of winning army, but of which story was best told he add up by arguing that “power is the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes you want”[3].

Melissen (1999), defines diplomacy “as the mechanism of representation, communication and negotiation, through which states and other international actors conduct their business”[4]. Thus, we have to bear in mind that we live in a “global village” and interdependent environment, in which information is a vital element particularly in the political and diplomatic arena. If we use to see diplomacy as a mean to tune or channel message between government states, in today’s contemporary world the information revolution has taken a different level.

With the evolution of the various forms of transmitting information (such as tweeter and others) we have been exposed to a chain of social changes, this has profoundly altered the face of the world. Thus, there is a new scenario that orchestra diplomatic relations between states. We must not ignore this new powerful unquestionable tool that is the communication. In his context, if information can be considered as an ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes you want, on the on the other hand, communication should be carried out not only in the government prospect but also in a much wider scale such as state and the civil society.


According Nickles (1966), during the late nineteen century telegraphy was so important that it facilitated growing number business in controlling their activities from very far. In addition to that, business where able to conduct activities that was once execute by “outside agents”[5]. One may argue that, technology can represent and use to enhance the business of diplomacy and the functioning of embassies.

We can argue that, states government have understood the importance of the social media. Although this is not a new phenomenon, this can also be seen as soft power. According to Nickles, in 1861 William Seward the Secretary of State under Lord Lyons the British minister to the United States at that time envisages the need to develop business to a different extent. Seward supported the construction of telegraph lines, he consider the at the time new technology (telegraph lines) as the tool to expand America leadership[6].  “Empire moves far more rapidly in modern than it did in ancient times”[7] (Seward cited by Nickles 1966).

Diplomat performs vital functions to the states. Independently to their previous training, he assumes the role of public relations, managing information and processes to achieve it, but also to disclose it to society: when, how and by what means will. However, we have seen a shift in international relations (IR) that used to be controlled by governments. Today is totally a different scenario, new actors have emerged and are playing important role within IR. Thus, social media are helping redefine what diplomacy means. Nickles make an important assertion by arguing that, this rapidity or speed of events has given some sort of power to public opinion[8]. This assertion can be illustrated with the facebook event in Colombia, where Oscar Morales through Facebook helped mobilized public protest of 12 million people to protest against Colombian communist guerrilla organization ([9].
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To summarize I would point out that, the information revolution has expanded the paradigm of traditional diplomacy, extending its concept and updating it in the face of new technologies and practices. We live in a globalized and interdependent world, where information play a vital character, particularly in the political and diplomatic. If before diplomacy was seen as only a means to communicate to a state government, in today’s contemporary world with the information revolution thing have changed dramatically. In this new scenario Foreign Ministry should take into account developments and the existing communication tools. After all, the Internet has long been an unquestionable reality. It is in this context that the Digital Diplomacy (e-Diplomacy) can be view and adopted, as a tool for information and communication relevant either to the embassies and consulates, either for himself diplomat in the development of their activities, using the mechanism such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Nickles also believes that, this confluence of experiences and skills brings the true balance for a diplomatic career[10].









[1]Bull, H. (2012), The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics, 4th edition, Palgrave Macmillan, Columbia University Press, p. 156

[2]Darryl S. L. Jarvis (2000), International Relations and the Challenge of Postmodernism: Defending the Discipline, University of South Carolina Press, p. 54 

[3]Nye, Jr., & Joseph S., (2005), Politics in an information age is not only about whose military wins but whose story wins, Boston Review, available at [accessed on the 06th March, 2013]

[4] Melissen, J., (ed)(1999), Innovation in diplomatic practice, London: Macmillan press,  pp. 16 – 17

[5]David Paul Nickles. (1966), Under the Wire: How the Telegraph Changed Diplomacy, (Harvard Historical Studies), United State, p. 33

[6] Ibid. 73

[7] Ibid. 74

[8] Ibid .79

[9]Metro (2010), Oscar Morales: ‘How I Used Facebook to Protest against Farc’, Available at [accessed on the 27th March, 2013]

[10] David Paul Nickles. (1966), Under the Wire: How the Telegraph Changed Diplomacy, (Harvard Historical Studies), United State, p. 80 – 81



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  1. haytami1 permalink

    Good piece of work, it reflects how important digital communication in Modern world today dictates the life of the people generally and diplomacy work particularly. No doubt that hundred diplomats use constantly the digital media, like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and so on, to communicate other diplomats or sometimes use for public diplomacy. Most of Embassies in the world post their websites for advertising their service and encourage to the people to contact with them or even to leave some comments or thoughts about how they satisfied with the service at embassy.

    The main contact channels for the people with embassy always included Telephones, Facebook massages and twitter and these digital communications replaced traditional usage of Telegram, Fax and Post.

  2. christianatham permalink

    Globalization and digital communication have eroded some of the role performed by Ambassadors but we cannot overlook the fact that Information obtained by governments from their embassies tends to be accurate and reliable. These professional reports provide accurate information for their governments.
    However, governments do not have total control over events like the flow of information. States were able to get information from own suppliers like diplomats and other intelligence agencies.
    ‘’Citizen Journalism ‘’, has outpaced other information providers like the governments and the news media. CNN actively served as diplomatic role during the Gulf war in 1991.It serves as a messenger medium hence when direct communication between the USA and Iraq official went cold, either side could talk on CNN to send a message across to the enemy. There was no doubt that the other party at the other side of the world would listen to the message. So important was the role of CNN that it was the only news network allowed to remain in Iraq when Saddam Hussein expelled all other journalist. The Iraq president recognise that he needed to communicate to George Bush Snr, it will be quicker through CNN rather than traditional diplomatic mechanism. Technology and the social media as well as the explosion of non-state actors have created a vast network where anyone can literally have a shot at influencing the world affairs other than diplomats. But, there are concerns about the accuracy in some of the media broadcast in matters relating to substance and the display of partiality. Online information for example can be error with some being intentional and other purposeful, therefore for accurate information; traditional sources are still relevant today.

    Berridge G. R. (2010) Diplomacy: Theory and Practice, 4th edition published by Basingstoke: Palgrave.
    Seib, Philip M., (2012) Real-time diplomacy: politics and power in the social media era. Published by Palgrave Macmillan, New York

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