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IDIG in conversation: Digital Diplomacy

21 May 2021

5 mins

Professor Helen Drake, Professor of French and European Studies and the Director for the Institute of Diplomacy and International Governance, hosts this IDIG conversation alongside colleagues Dr Dorina Baltag, Postdoctoral Researcher, and Dr Aidan McGarry, Reader in International Politics. The conversation focuses on the Digital Diplomacy programme and how the digital realm has impacted the different aspects of  diplomacy.

The conversation begins with Programme Creator, Dr Aidan McGarry, highlighting the ideology of digital diplomacy. Aidan describes the digital realm as cutting-edge and discusses how the two collide creating a paradox.

“The digital realm is the future and diplomacy is something that has been around for centuries. Diplomacy has been radically transformed through digital platforms and the media. This module focuses on power and open communication. Digital diplomacy is cutting edge, it’s a practice as well as an idea enabling open dialogue on how politics are done and opens other aspects of diplomacy”.

Professor Helen Drake mentions the impact political impacts of COVID-19 and how this has inadvertently taken away the physical aspects of global events. Aidan adds that COVID-19 forced Summits with global leaders to be held digitally. Something like this would not have been possible to adapt to 15 years ago but the facts of this happening now provides proof of adaptability, which could in turn help tackle other global issues. For example, digital conversations about decreasing carbon footprints to minimise environmental harm can be encouraged, if these conversations are just as effective.

Dr Dorina Baltag believes ‘old fashioned’ diplomacy is just traditional diplomacy and actually not much has changed at its core.

“The digital age and the pandemic has introduced the diplomatic agenda and the public being able to openly converse with those behind the steering wheel of foreign policies through social media channels. Digital connection further enhances diplomacy allowing more individuals to advocate for global issues”.

As Dorina has partaken in extensive research in this area, Helen asks her to further divulge her findings around Ministries of Foreign Affairs and how embassies have reacted to the openness of social media, have they embraced the social media realm or is there retention around it? Dr Dorina Baltag replies:

Communication is a core function of diplomacy that has been in need of updating. Some countries have been advanced in building digital strategies and embracing the new digital age although some countries have been struggling to advance and digest the volumes of increased data.”

Helen Drake then streamlines the conversation into a real life example of how diplomacy and social media collide, highlighting the former US president’s (Donald Trump) social media presence, and how his presidency was characterized based on his twitter presence. In response to this, Dorina offers a positive outlook on his online presence, stating that he clearly utilised this platform as an instrument for his agenda and which enabled him to speak openly to the public. Aidan further identifies how Donald Trump, in a sense, transformed diplomacy with his style of communication being so one way, whether it be by using capital letters or demanding the language used was more of a nuance then effective communication. Dorina adds that one important nuance of the digital age is the differentiation between having an online presence and actually being able to utilise this presence for communication.

In this discussion, Helen links digital diplomacy to the amount of teaching material it also provides and mentions that one of Dorina’s student practices includes an analysis on a previous Donald Trump tweet. Helen goes on to ask Aidan and Dorina for their opinion on how the digital world impacts the student experience.

Aidan explains that a lot digital diplomacy relies heavily on information and the practicalities of this for students during this course, is that they learn to effectively digest large parts of information and dissect the prominent parts of it and further communicate it in a practical way. So synthesising data given, and compellingly communicating it. These skills are vital in the real world and being able to swiftly communicate and example compelling date demonstrates a highly transferable skill set.

Dorina concludes this discussion by adding that being able to differentiate between different sources of information and defining what is considered credible, is another skill that these programmes aid.

“Our programmes enables students to create profiles, conduct presentations, show team work and take initiative when leadership skills are required. You learn about effective negotiation, everything you learn enables you to effectively connect data. For example linking a business to climate change and the climate change to conflict, conflict to resolution whether it be within education or cultural social issues. These skills can link you to so many career paths whether it be diplomatic, negotiating, journalism or even a high profile translation role, the transferrable skills are endless.”.

Research is at the heart of the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance.

If you are interested in addressing complex, international issues and developing your professional research skills, then pursuing a PhD in the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance could be for you.

For further course information click here.

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