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.

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The Rohingya Crisis and Indonesia’s Possible Leading Role in Securing Asia-Pacific Regional Architecture

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi discusses recent development in the Rakhine State with Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. (Source: http://www.kemlu.go.id)

Indonesia perceives regional stability as one of its national interest. Hence, Indonesia has been actively taking part in various efforts to develop a regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific. Pinthong (2015) defines regional architecture as creation of an optimal regional conditions for economies to prosper, societies to progress and human security to flourish. Pinthong further describes that such an architecture involves promotion of order and stability, as well as enhancement of the insurance against outbreak of conflict.

Recent development in Myanmar has been threatening ‘the optimal conditions’ cited above. The outbreak of violence and ensuing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State has put collective efforts in developing a regional architecture in jeopardy. Such demeanours are in contradiction of the spirit of protecting human security. Those can also lead to the outbreak of a broader conflict.

Responding to the escalation of human rights abuses against the Rohingya – one of Myanmar’s minority ethnic groups – Indonesia pledged it commitment to take a leading role in assisting Myanmar to end the crisis. Indonesia took this decision as continuation of its engagement-driven policy towards Myanmar. As the biggest nation in Southeast Asia Indonesia played a prominent role in Myanmar’s accession to ASEAN. Indonesia also contributed to Myanmar’s transition to democracy.

Discussing Indonesia’s policy on the Rohingya issue, one may take two reasons into consideration. First, the Constitution of Indonesia clearly mentions that maintaining world peace and order is part of its responsibilities as member of the international community. We understand that the concept of regional architecture substantially connects with the concept of order. Order, as defined by Baylis and Smith (2006), refers to any regular or discernible pattern of relationship that are stable overtime. It also refers to a condition that allows certain goals to be achieved.

Based on this definition, Baylis and Smith further define world order as the degree of order based on the delivery of certain goods including security, human rights, basic needs and justice. From this point of view, crisis in Myanmar has put the regional order at risk. In line with its Constitution, Indonesia has the responsibility to assist Myanmar to end the crisis.

Second, Indonesia has cordial relationship with Myanmar. Last year Indonesian Foreign Minister visited Myanmar proposing a formula to solve the crisis. Indonesia should use the willingness of Myanmar to accept its views as diplomatic asset. Compared to other countries in the region, Indonesia has wider opportunity to urge Myanmar to stop cruelty against the Rohingya.

The next question is how to implement that role at the operational level. During her visit to Myanmar, Indonesian Foreign Minister proposed a plan to solve the Rohingya crisis. The proposal contains five main aspects: humanitarian services, conflict prevention, reconciliation, institution-building, and long-term development. We must bear in mind that the proposal is not only inclusive but also encompassing a wide range of aspects and phases. For sure, Indonesia will not be able to accomplish all of them without partnership with other stakeholders.

Reviewing the inclusiveness of the said proposal, I wish to suggest the following strategies. First, at the bilateral level Indonesia should invite other like-minded countries to participate in assisting Myanmar to end the crisis. At the regional level Indonesia should utilize relevant regional institutions and mechanisms to pursue the objectives of its proposal. At the global level Indonesia should summon non-government organizations and international organizations to take place. Considering the sensitivity of the issue and ensure the effectiveness of this approach, Indonesia should consult Myanmar recurrently on prerequisites of third-parties’ participation.

Second, Indonesia should put humanitarian services as matter of priority. Humanitarian services contain not only delivering logistics but also – more importantly – ensuring that the government of Myanmar utilize its resources to halt the human rights violation towards the Rohingya.

Third, Indonesia should talk with countries that have great political and economic influences on Myanmar. It is indeed important to discuss the proposal with Myanmar’s immediate neighbours like Bangladesh and Thailand. To further enhance comprehensiveness of its proposal, however, Indonesia should also talk with other great powers in the region such as China, Russia, and the United States. Endorsement from those three countries will significantly boost Indonesia’s proposal at multilateral stages such as in the United Nations.

Fourth, still Indonesia must oblige the global norm of sovereignty. Considering that Myanmar is still at transition period to democracy, inappropriate approaches to Rohingya issue may lead them to close their doors to foreign assistances. Indonesia, therefore, must prioritize the constructive engagement policy instead of alienating Myanmar. In other words, Indonesia must perceive Myanmar as part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Myanmar holds the biggest share of obligation in solving the Rohingya crisis. As a part of the international community, however, Indonesia has a responsibility to ensure the protection of human rights as inseparable part of an Asia-Pacific regional architecture. Finally, accomplishment in assisting Myanmar to solve the crisis in the Rakhine State will boost Indonesia’s credentials as an important player in the region. In a wider perspective, Indonesia’s capability to assist Myanmar in solving the Rohingya issue will not only benefit both nations but also put the development of Asia-Pacific regional architecture back on the right track.

References:

Baylis, John and Smith, Steve. 2006. The Globalization of World Politics Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pinthong, Chitriya. 2015. “The Evolving Regional Architecture for the Asia-Pacific: Toward an Indo-Pacific Idea.” Rangsit Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities Vol. 2, No. 1, January – June 2015.

President Joko Widodo visits Rohingya refugees at Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh. (Source: http://www.setkab.go.id)