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Diplomacy is often considered theatre, a metaphor in which diplomats orchestrate performances meant to create mental or sentimental images. For example, a summit of world leaders after a terrorist attack wishes to transmit safety. If we talk about social media and the image created by ministries of foreign affairs on social networks, diplomacy seems theatre judging by the multitude of the photos shared from global summits on Twitter. However, sometimes, digital diplomacy actually offers a short glimpse into what happens behind the scenes, where the real activity of international relations is taking place, as do the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the US State Department.
The sociologist Erving Goffman split the realm of social life in two distinct spheres: one in which people are playing roles and the other which is behind these roles, where the true character lies. On this matter, he also argues that credibility is the key factor for fulfilling these roles and maintaining a certain image.
Some of us may consider such type posts on social media as a form of transparency of diplomacy, but if we apply Goffman’s theory, we may think that it is just an illusion to maintain credibility. In a world more and more digitalized, like any person, institutions need credibility in order to maintain their image in the online realm.
On the same matter, Corneliu Bjola, Associate Professor in Diplomatic Studies, University of Oxford, realized a quantitative analysis that argues why retweets are endorsements which also can mean keeping up a certain amount of credibility.
Professor’s Bjola analysis has in its center follower engagement. The number of followers reflects inactive or passive consumers of information, whilst retweets point to engagement with the audience. An interesting aspect is that engagement is simpler to obtain and the specialist shown that a simple link towards a photograph may increase retweets rate up to 35%.
This characteristic has the ability to stimulate followers’ engagement. The higher the number of retweets, the more efficient the digital strategy is, but it cannot measure how much engagement there is. In other words, the number of retweets is a quantitative metric useful to see if the message reaches its audience, but in absence of a qualitative measure we cannot say exactly if the audience support or disapprove the message. To resolve this limitation, professor Bjola introduces two concepts from Goffman’s theory of symbolic interactions and frame analysis – lamination and keying – as qualitative metrics of retweets analysis of digital diplomacy.
According to Goffman, lamination refers to “layers” of activity which modifies or transforms a specific frame by which a social situation is interpreted. For example, when a diplomatic summit is reported in mass-media, the original frame of what has being discussed is rarely reproduced ad-litteram. Usually this is altered and transformed by successive layers of media reports and by re-tweeting or commenting ads other layers. The way that lamination appears is via keying which refers to context interpretations by which audience is being signaled preferred modes of interpretation of the original message. For example, a retweet can “spin” the meaning of original message and in other direction from the initial tweet.
Tweets are not all equally important. While the number of retweets is an instrument used to measure the efficiency of digital strategies, the qualitative feature of retweets makes the difference by reinforcing the core message of the original tweet.
In an era in which the access to information is in continuous growing, institutions must adapt in order to maintain credibility in online. Engagement with audience is vital and communication strategies will have to be more interactive and, why not, more creative to produce a dialogue with the citizens.
- Is Digital Diplomacy just Theater
- When Does Retweet = Endorsement? A Qualitative Analysis for Digital Diplomacy
- Photo credit: US State Department
Article drafted by Mihai Bogdan Mocanu, intern @ Institute for Digital Government. Mihai is a recent graduate of an MA in Diplomacy and Negotiation (SNSPA Bucharest) and a passionate about photography. He has competencies in the realm of institutional communication, having completed internships with the UK Embassy in Romania, the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as other volunteering projects.
Often, public information is not easily accessible, while tedious steps have to be taken in order to obtain it, which leads to citizens giving up prematurely. When obtained, it may go unnoticed: the content is massive, disparate or contradictory. Currently there are journalistic or activist projects aimed at their recovery by increasing accessibility in various forms: interactive visualization, complex maps or listing.
In this regard NarcoData is a good example; it aggregates information provided by the government on a platform developed by two journalistic outlets. The drug cartels information, until recently, were classified. Animal Politico, a digital news site in Mexico, obtained the documents which concerned drug cartels and aims to achieve full potential through processing it.
Thus, in collaboration with other journalistic data mapping platform, Poderopedia, NarcoData emerged. The project aims to shine light specifically on organized crime and drug trafficking in Mexico. Since the Mexican state was not able to provide citizens with information and updates on systematic fight against organized crime, NarcoData appears as a natural response to a specific need.
NarcoData analyzes data gathered over four decades and explains how drug trafficking has reached its current size and influence. Animal Politico has obtained this information from a transparency reforms conducted by the government then corroborated the data with other information from publications, books and interviews. Poderopedia, the Chilean data visualization project, put together this information to get a clear map of the power structures of organized crime.
NarcoData project is a collaboration with effective results that increases the accessibility to scattered information, difficult to filter and correlate. Moreover, the project contributes to the transparency process launched by the Mexican government and helps citizens, civil society, journalists and public administration.
Even if not at the scale of the project conducted by Mexican journalists, similar actions are being carried through in Romania. Florin Bădiţă began to request cadastral datasets from ANCPI (National Agency for Cadastre and Land) that he wished to import into OpenStreetMap, a free map of the world, where contribute more than 2 million volunteers. For 6 months, his requests received no answer so he pursued a hierarchical logic of the governmental institutions – first he addressed the central government and went back to the local level. He managed to obtain the contact details of all institutions and will compile a public database with contact addresses of all institutions in Romania.
From INP (National Heritage Institute) he obtained a list of the 16,000 churches and museums in Romania that will be added to OpenStreetMap. Another success of Florin consists in obtaining data on NGOs in Romania and developing it into a register of NGOs which now can be found on the government portal.
Florin’s effort is already paying off, as he says himself:
Regarding the register of NGOs in Romania, there was a hackathon, where the grand prize, consisting of supplies worth 10,000 euros, was won by a team that used data that I have achieved and they developed an application using it. I talked to several people who were inspired by what I did, and they have started to send requests on Law 544/2001 to find out certain information.
Now he works on an ambitious project on transparency which aims to create a database that will contain the email addresses of 20, 000 public institutions to which he will send requests on Law 544/2001 about public information such as the budget or managed documents.
Among the difficulties identified by Florin in dialogue with the public institutions on open data, he points to poor knowledge of the law 544/2001 of the administration:
It’s funny to see how you can get 10 different answers from 10 different municipalities, when asking the same thing.
If some town halls gave me a list of all persons living in the city, with private information that should not be provided, another town hall asked for RON 4,000 for information that the law compels them to provide for free.
Another example given by Florin is a municipality that apparently refused access to the PUG (General Urban Plan) on the ground that the town hall has a contract with ANCPI (National Agency for Cadastre and Land) which forbids them to do so .
Both NarcoData in Mexico and, projects carried out by Florin Bădiţă in Romania, enable citizens to access and understand large volumes of information which affects their lives. Free access to data allows both government institutions and non-governmental organizations to be efficient and effective. The objective – being informed – can be achieved with lower resource consumption.
You can find Florin Bădiţă on Facebook or on email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article written by Ștefania Neagoe, intern at Institute for Digital Government. Ștefania is a graduate of International Relations and European Studies and she is currently studying at the Faculty of Philosophy – UB. Alongside she is involved in civic activism and she is interested in up-to-date communication between public institutions and citizens.