Twitter as Tool of Diplomacy: Lessons Learned from Other Foreign Ministries

In her keynote speech delivered in front of Indonesia’s largest blogger community on 9 October 2016, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Mrs. Retno Marsudi emphasized the importance of social media as a tool for diplomats to obtain timely information and represent Indonesia abroad. Mrs. Marsudi further said that “the biggest mistake is if we are not on social media to do diplomacy.”

The Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) indeed had realized the significant role of information technology in diplomacy since the early 2000s. As part of its organizational reform, the MOFA in 2002 established the Directorate General of Information and Public Diplomacy. The creation of this directorate general indicated that the MOFA had already developed clear vision on the way diplomacy would be conducted in the future.

Compared to foreign ministries in some other countries, however, the use of social media as tool of diplomacy by the Indonesian MOFA is still moderate. To understand this trend this paper focuses on the utilization of Twitter, one among the most influential social media platforms, by foreign ministries in selected countries. The US Department of State maintains ten Twitter accounts in ten different non-English languages namely Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Spain, Portuguese, Russia, French, and Turkey. With those Twitter accounts the US Department of States can disseminate information in a more effective way as the contents are presented in the audiences’ respective language.

Regarding the content, the Twitter account @francediplo_EN maintained by the French Foreign Ministry can be used as a good example. The account’s name indicates that the interface language is English. The use of English in this account also signifies the intention of the French government to better penetrate the wider global audience. This account has been disseminating various information about France from several perspectives, from France policies on certain issues to cheese varieties produced by that country.

Another example is @IndianDiplomacy, the Twitter account created by the Indian Foreign Ministry. This account has been disseminating various information about India. Like @francediplo_EN the language used in @IndianDiplomacy is English. The use of English as the interface language shows the intention of the Indian government to reach the wider global audience.

The other feature is the presence of guideline and code of conduct on the use of social media. The United States Department of State, for example, published Foreign Affairs Manual regarding to the use of social media. The manual contains guidelines for (1) conducting internal and external collaboration within the ministry as well between the ministry and other Federal Government agencies; (2) conducting diplomatic activities with non-U.S. Government organizations and individuals on controlled-access Web sites that are not available to the general public; (3)  using social media for official consular, public affairs and public diplomacy activities on Web sites that are available to the general public; and (4) using social media or engaging in activities that are of official concern to the ministry.

The American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) also published Guidance of Personal Use of Social Media for its members. The AFSA clearly mentions that they support the use of social media but, at the same time, emphasize that but any form of communication – via social media, telephone, e-mail, or just old-fashioned conversations – is governed by social norms and etiquette, and requires good judgment and common sense.

After reviewing how other foreign ministries use social media as tool of conducting diplomacy, three lessons learned can be drawn as follow:

  • Clear guidance on the use of social media is a defining element of digital diplomacy. Such a guidance is essential to avoid misuse of social media by employees as well as to enhance the effectiveness of its utilization in achieving the goals. It is interesting to note that the Indonesian MOFA has not published such a guidance.
  • Other foreign affairs ministries maintain more than one Twitter account. Each account has its specific contents, audiences, or even language. Disseminating various kinds of information through one social media account will raise question about effectiveness. The Indonesian MOFA, on the other hand, currently maintains only one official Twitter accounts at the organizational level.
  • The main objective of the use of social media as tool of digital diplomacy is to disseminate information to the global audience. Indeed, disseminating information to the domestic audience is an important element of transparency. The main target of any social media campaign, however, should be the global audience.

Based on those lessons learned, three recommendations can be proposed as follow:

  • The MOFA should develop a comprehensive guidance on the use of social media as tool achieve goals in diplomacy. This guidance should contain, among others, code of conduct for both official and personal use of social media; technical aspects such as standard of account’s name and nomenclature of official accounts; and sanctions for social media misuse.
  • The MOFA should create more than one official Twitter account. The current account can be used effectively to share information to the domestic audience. To reach the global audiences the MOFA should create another account with English as its interface language.
  • The MOFA should establish an inter-unit task force to develop contents of social media campaign and strategies to disseminate them. This task force regularly develops, for example, infographics about Indonesia’s commodities, investment opportunities, and tourist destinations. The task force then sends the said contents regularly to all Indonesia’s diplomatic and consular missions along with the timetable of uploading of the contents. This concerted effort will enhance the effectiveness in disseminating information about Indonesia to the global audiences.

The Foreign Minister – in the speech quoted at the beginning of this article – has laid the ground for the improvement of the use of social media as tool of diplomacy. Now it is the task of the related stakeholders in the MOFA to implement it at the technical level. Reviewing recent development within the MOFA, adopting the above policy recommendations will significantly improve the effectiveness of Indonesia’s diplomacy in this digital era as part of the effort to achieve goals in foreign policy.


Palm oil and challenges to Indonesia’s plantation commodities’ sustainability

According to current statistics published by the Ministry of Trade, in 2017 the plantation sector contributed USD 41.9 billion to Indonesia’s export. This value is equivalent to 27% of overall Indonesia’s export value of USD 153.2 billion. This figure shows that the plantation sector has a significant contribution to Indonesia’s economy. Any disruption to plantation commodities’ global trade, therefore, will significantly affect Indonesia’s economy. Such a disruption will not only reduce incomes from export but also can increase employment rate at the domestic level.

The decision of the European Parliament to propose a ban on palm oil has raised concern about the future of Indonesia’s plantation export commodities. The EU questioned the sustainability of Indonesia’s palm oil in making their decision. Palm oil plantation, according to them, has caused deforestation and increased greenhouse gas emissions. Based on this view the EU decided to exclude palm oil from their Renewable Energy Directive (RED) scheme. Interestingly they still allow all other oilseed crops to continue operating under the RED scheme. Considering that the European Union (EU) is the second-largest Indonesia’s palm oil export destination, EU decision will cause a considerable impact to Indonesia’s economy.

We may consider EU’s decision as an unfair one and as part of non-tariff trade barriers imposed to protect their own agriculture-based oil industry. Nevertheless, we must accept this reality as part of competition in current global trade. Instead of blaming the EU, it is better for us to convince the global audience that Indonesia in on the right track in the efforts to implement the principles of sustainability in its palm oil plantation and industry.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to lead a concerted effort in encountering EU’s negative views on Indonesia’s palm oil sustainability. The Ministry also has a responsibility in preventing the spread of EU’s view to non-EU countries, particularly in countries currently importing palm oil from Indonesia. We should bear in mind that the EU as a global major power has the ability to influence other countries to follow its policy.

The effectiveness of Foreign Ministry’s efforts in encountering EU’s views will depend on two main factors. The first factor is how far the government can guarantee the sustainability of palm oil plantations in Indonesia. In 2010 the government launched the Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) initiative aimed to make palm oil production sustainable and in compliance with Indonesia’s laws and regulations. There are 98 indicators which elaborate seven principles and criteria contained in the ISPO. These seven principles cover 1) the plantation licensing and management system 2) the application of technical guidelines for palm oil cultivation and processing; 3) environmental management and monitoring; 4) responsibility towards workers 5) social and community responsibility; 6) empowering the community economy and 7) sustainable business improvement.

The effectiveness of campaigns on Indonesia’s palm oil sustainability at the global level will heavily depend on the achievement of ISPO targets at the domestic level. Yet in August 2017 the Ministry of Agriculture acknowledged that only 16,7% of palm oil plantations that had met ISPO standards. This figure is alarming. It shows that after seven years we are still far from reaching ISPO standards. It is a huge task for the government and other related stakeholders in palm oil industry to accelerate the achievement of ISPO standards.

The second factor is the way the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – in cooperation with other related stakeholders – handle the campaign. There are some element the Ministry should consider in organizing such a campaign. First, EU’s decision has not been finalized. This means that there is still a room for Indonesia to maneuver by approaching the EU and its member states to reconsider their stances on Indonesia’s palm oil sustainability. Indonesia’s diplomatic missions accredited to members of the EU have crucial role to convince their respective host countries on this matter.

Second, EU’s decision was highly influenced by the interests of its business community. Indonesia, therefore, should not only get in touch with the EU and governments of its member states but also with the European business community. In approaching business community Indonesia should involve private stakeholders in the palm oil industry. Considering that not all of those private stakeholders have experiences in international negotiation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has crucial role in enhancing private stakeholders’ competence on international negotiation.

Third, Indonesia should continue disseminating good progress of the efforts to achieve palm oil sustainability to counter negative campaigns conducted by other parties on this issue. Indonesia should disseminate related data and information in a concerted manner and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should take a leading role at this stage. The Ministry should enhance coordination with other stakeholders – from both government and private sectors – in developing contains of such campaign as well as in conducting the campaign.

To sum up, Indonesia has to take EU’s decision seriously. We must acknowledge that the EU has crucial role in determining the future of Indonesia’s palm oil in global market, not only because around 16% of our palm oil export goes to them, but also because their decision can influence other parties to follow suit. We should also anticipate the possibility of the application of sustainability standards by the EU in the future to other plantation commodities. It is important for the government and related stakeholders, therefore, to ensure that Indonesia’s plantation sector can meet globally-accepted standards of sustainability on the basis of equality among all members of the international society.

Indonesia’s position in global discourse on corruption

In the 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) recently released by Transparency International, Indonesia is ranked 96th out of 180 countries. With CPI score of 36 Indonesia, unfortunately,  is still perceived as corrupt. Among G20 countries, for example, Indonesia is ranked 16th together with Brazil. Only two G20 countries – Russia and Mexico – whose scores are worse than that of Indonesia and Brazil. Meanwhile in ASEAN Indonesia is ranked 4th after Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysia.

We must admit that Indonesia’s CPI score, like it or not, reflects the big picture of corruption as serious problem in the country. This is an alarming situation because in the last 15 years Indonesia has been taking various efforts to eradicate corruption both at the domestic and global levels. Circumstances cited above lead to questions about Indonesia’s stance in the global discourse on corruption. Should Indonesia adjust its approach in the global discourse on corruption? What issues can Indonesia now bring to global discussions on corruption eradication?

In early 2000s, when Indonesia was in the initial stage of its political reform era, the democratically elected government started to put corruption eradication as a matter of priority. In 1999 the law on the eradication of corruption was adopted. In 2002 the government founded the Eradication Corruption Commission (KPK) and Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPTAK). The establishment of those two institutions underlined government’s strong determination in eradicating corruption and other related crimes.

This development enhanced Indonesia’s self-confidence in taking a leading role in the global discourse on corruption. Indonesia, for example, actively involved in the negotiation of United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2002-2003. Indonesia signed the Convention shortly after its adoption and became state party to the Convention in 2006. To further show its strong commitment in global campaign against corruption, in 2008 Indonesia hosted the Second Session of the Conference of States Parties of UNCAC. As member of G20 Indonesia also actively participated in various G20 and OECD anti-corruption initiatives.

During this period Indonesia confidently brought its experiences in radically shifting domestic anti-corruption policies to global audience. In many occasions Indonesia shared its ‘success stories’ in eradicating corruption and handed over lessons learned from such stories to other countries. Indonesia also emphasized the importance of technical assistance from developed countries and international organizations to developing countries. The message was clear that developing countries required technical assistance to solve the problem of corruption.

Two decades after political reform Indonesia still faces tough tasks in achieving goals of its anti-corruption policies. Recent data from KPK shows that the number of corruption cases in the country is still high. According to the last annual reports published by KPK the corruption cases investigated by this institution increased from 99 cases in 2016 to 118 cases in 2017. To make this data more miserable, most corruption cases occurred in public sectors.

Corruption is indeed a global problem and all members of international community should work together to eradicate this crime. Despite of the distressing situation at the domestic level, Indonesia should continue its active participation in the global discourse on corruption. In my opinion, however, Indonesia has to adapt this new development by alternating its approaches. It is irrelevant for the country at this stage to bring to global audience similar themes as it brought in 2000s.  Indonesia can no longer share its success stories in eradicating corruption to global audience. Indonesia also cannot assert its experiences at the domestic level as ‘good lessons learned.’ We must acknowledge that despite of various efforts and technical assistance, Indonesia still faces corruption as one of the most serious problems to overcome.

Considering dynamics at the domestic level I would like to recommend the following aspects to be conveyed by Indonesia at global discourse on corruption. First, Indonesia has to deliver strong message to underscore its commitment and determination in eradicating corruption. Indonesia, for example, should persuade global audience to put recent high number of corruption cases investigated by KPK in the context of government’s firmness in combating this crime. Indonesia must also emphasize that this high number should not be perceived as a sign of lack of commitment in eradicating corruption.

Second, Indonesia has to inform global audience its ongoing and upcoming programs and projects aimed to eradicate corruption. It is important to reassure the global community that the government does not work alone in eradicating corruption but with support and involvement of non-governmental elements such as private sectors and civil society.

Third, Indonesia has to emphasize the importance of members of the international society to continue their collaborative works in eradicating corruption. Governments, international organizations, and civil society should work together in finding most suitable solution to combat this crime by examining its context. Indonesia should underline its readiness to work together with other parties in the areas of prevention and law enforcement at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. Indonesia should also reaffirm its view on the importance of technical assistance for developing countries, particularly in the area of capacity building.

The reality of high number of corruption cases despite of all efforts have been taken has put Indonesia in a difficult situation. Being perceived as a corrupt state leads to the damage of Indonesia’s image as the third largest democracy. No doubt that government and people of Indonesia are bearing the highest responsibility in solving the problem of corruption in their home. Indonesia, however, cannot solve the problem alone. It needs assistance from other members of international society. Indonesia’s active role in the global discourse on corruption, above all, should be aimed to support its efforts in achieving its anti-corruption policy goals at the domestic level.

Bangsa yang Ramah?

Kesemrawutan lalu lintas di Jakarta yang terjadi hampir setiap hari, tawur antar warga, dan aksi premanisme yang kian tak terkendali memunculkan pertanyaan di benak. Apakah kita layak mengaku sebagai bangsa yang ramah?

Ramah-tamah adalah merk yang selalu kita unggulkan jika kita bicara tentang bangsa ini. Spesifikasinya mencakup sopan santun, penghormatan terhadap orang lain, mendahulukan orang tua dan kelompok cacat, mengutamakan kepentingan umum, dan seterusnya. Semua serba ideal dan masih saja diagung-agungkan.

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Indonesia Pemimpin ASEAN

Membuka majalah The Economist (edisi 24 Mei 2008), perhatian saya tertuju pada dua artikel tentang Indonesia. Terus terang saja, bagi saya terpampangnya dua artikel mengenai Indonesia cukup mengejutkan. Sebab biasanya yang menjadi sorotan adalah China dan India, dua negara yang sedang begitu ramai diperbincangkan. Topiknya juga seputar pertumbuhan ekonomi mereka yang mencengangkan.

Artikel tentang Indonesia berjudul “Forcing help on Myanmar: ASEAN needs to play a bigger role in its region, and Indonesia a bigger role in ASEAN”dan “Not yet a dream; no longer a nightmare: a boom satire marks a decade of sturdy democracy.”

Saya akan mengulas artikel pertama.

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Tantangan Pariwisata Indonesia

Belum lama ini lembaga internasional terkemuka World Economic Forum (WEF) menerbitkan publikasi bertajuk Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2008. WEF menyusun peringkat daya saing sektor pariwisata 130 negara di dunia berdasarkan hasil penilaian pada sejumlah indikator. Semakin tinggi peringkat suatu negara berarti semakin kompetitif sektor pariwisata negara tersebut.

Publikasi tersebut menarik untuk dicermati. Di tengah upaya pemerintah meningkatkan arus kunjungan wisatawan mancanegara (wisman), Indonesia hanya berada di urutan ke-80. Apa yang membuat peringkat Indonesia demikian rendah? Langkah apa yang perlu dilakukan untuk memperbaikinya?

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Filipino? Mexican? Indonesian!

Beberapa kali saya disangka orang Filipina. Pada kesempatan lain, saya dikira orang Meksiko. Populasi dua kelompok etnis ini di San Francisco dan sekitarnya memang cukup besar, terutama di wilayah pinggiran tempat saya tinggal.

Meksiko berbatasan langsung dengan Amerika Serikat (AS). Tidak mengherankan banyak penduduk negara tersebut yang pindah melintasi perbatasan ke utara. Tujuannya mencari penghidupan yang lebih baik. Sedangkan Filipina memiliki hubungan sejarah yang cukup istimewa dengan AS. Setelah lepas dari penjajahan Spanyol, tetangga kita yang satu ini diduduki Paman Sam. Pada Perang Dunia II, banyak tentara Filipina yang bertempur di pihak AS. Tidak mengherankan jika banyak Filipino yang melintas Samudera Pasifik, beremigrasi ke AS.

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