Weaponization of Social Media Platforms in the Post-Truth Era
It is ubiquitous to see nations worldwide reaching out to the public, both domestic and foreign, to shape public opinions on one hand and exert influence on the other. As a result of public diplomacy, national leaders are showing the urgency to connect to people to explain government postures and decisions and communicate the desired 'images.' Therefore, it is essential to understand the meaning of public diplomacy and the Internet's role in this age.
At the same time, we also see a surge of fake news and politicization of media platforms. A massive amount of data is being created, and social media rules are being defined and undefined without proper insight into it. There is a surge in terrorist recruitment, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has added to this complexity and discrepancy.
With almost everyone forced to move online, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, we cannot ignore the role of social media in connecting with the public. Public diplomacy is bound to be online. In this essay, public diplomacy is first defined, then social media's role is analyzed. Finally, the challenges and examples of using social media for diplomacy are highlighted.
So what is Public Diplomacy?
According to Nye (2010), public diplomacy is also called Propaganda, which aims to win over their people and indirectly influence foreign governments. It is stated that while one of the aims of conventional diplomacy is to exert direct influence on the foreign government, the objective of Propaganda, or public diplomacy is usually to do it indirectly.
It is done by appealing to the heads of those governments and influencing the people.
According to Cohen (1998), public diplomacy drives international relations established by states to articulate their foreign policy objectives and coordinate their efforts to influence foreign governments and peoples through dialogue, negotiations, and other measures. However, public diplomacy may vary in its character and targets. They maintain contact with the migrated citizens online and harness new communication tools to listen and target audiences with key messages. The diplomatic corps of different countries are using social media for these activities.
There is also a new word coined for diplomacy facilitated through social media platforms called "Digital Diplomacy." Hanson (2012) defines digital diplomacy as using the Internet and new Information Communication Technologies to help carry out diplomatic objectives and states eight policy goals. One of the policy goals for digital diplomacy is 'Propaganda or public diplomacy.'
How do countries around the world use social media for public diplomacy?
An analysis of the literature on public diplomacy reveals a predominantly Western perspective and its traction in foreign policy and diplomacy narrative. Since its coining by Edmund Gullion in 1965, it has been an essential practice in the diplomatic core of various countries, such as the U.S. and Turkey. Also, African countries like South Africa and Ghana, like the Western nations, have aimed to build 'longer-lasting networks of individuals and institutions that may influence the broader relationship between states and peoples.
However, it has yet to be seen in a good light by many European scholars exploring if Europe's digital diplomacy efforts have yielded a coherent overall image or worked at cross-purposes. There is a debate on the effectiveness that is noticeable in the U.S., particularly after the tragic incidents 9/11. This significance is closely scrutinized elsewhere, like in India, where, despite the increasing emphasis on its exercise, many are skeptical about India's' nation brand.' It is noticeable that there has also to proceed among blurring of borders with domestic issues being debated by the international audience and vice-versa. It is important to note that European countries mostly use 'digital diplomacy' or social media platforms for Nation Branding. This is an effort to create an 'image' for a nation that is good for its people, trade, commerce, and industry. Considering this aspect, public diplomacy has also been defined as 'efforts by the government of one nation to influence public or elite opinion in a second nation, to turn the foreign policy of the target nation to advantage.' It has assumed a new context with social media platforms facilitating two-way communication, allowing for dialogue and direct engagement.
Is Public Diplomacy & Propaganda the same?
Although Public Diplomacy and Propaganda are synonymous terms, today's dominant public opinion tends to regard Propaganda as a deceitful and dangerous practice, even if a more descriptive definition of Propaganda might be more neutral. Jacques Ellul defines Propaganda as a method of communication employed by organized groups that want to bring about the active or passive participation of a mass of individuals in action. Further, he says these individuals are psychologically unified through psychological manipulation and incorporated into an organization. Karen Johnson-Cartee and Gary Copeland contend that effective Propaganda requires considering the audience's predisposition. They state that' Propaganda is not brainwashing - or introducing new ideas, attitudes, and beliefs, contrary to the individual's cognitive structure. Instead, Propaganda is a resonance strategy, the discovery of culturally shared beliefs, deliberate reinforcement, and ultimately aggrandizement of those beliefs.
Facilitating the global village and national branding
Technological innovation has contributed to globalization by supplying infrastructure for transworld connections, and countries must take advantage of the opportunities that tech is creating. This advancement in globalization has also led to increasing competition between nations for political and economic attention. We see that an increasing number of countries make a conscious effort to create a favorable image in the minds of the citizens and the world to increase their influence and prestige. The initiative is often referred to as "nation branding." Apart from traditional diplomacy, which is usually between the members of the diplomatic corps for various nations, digital diplomacy is another way to reach out to the other country's citizens and get them into contact with the culture and society. It is also a way of exerting a country's soft power, informing them about policies and the government, and engaging them in dialogue and exchange using strategic communication. To create a brand image or national branding, commercial organizations, governments, and their embassies are starting to use social media to reach out to their audiences.