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Can Social Media Really Revolutionise Diplomacy?

Recently Mark Zuckerberg did a live interview with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They worked through a range of public-posed questions, touching on India's need for widened internet access, Facebook's plans to aid with that need and more. During the Q&A Modi said that he thought social media was vital to the future of diplomacy. He said it was capable of connecting politicians with the public in ways never before possible, altering the structure of diplomacy.

This came within days of Zuckerberg's appearance at the U.N. He spoke about Facebook's plans to bring internet access to refugee camps across the world, a timely decision, given everything that's happened in recent months. In the long term though, it's part of the United Nations' wider plan to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, a goal that social media will likely play a significant role in.

It's when we start looking at social media in this context that its real value can be assessed. Photo albums, birthday messages and passive aggression are all well and good, but the ability to connect people has vast socio-political implications. Zuckerberg has made his intention to bring the internet across the world clear many times, from mobile networks to gigantic drones (and Bono), but it's worth bearing in mind that as much as he wants people using the internet globally, he also wants them using it for Facebook.

As to the question of whether or not social media really can revolutionise diplomacy, in many ways, it already has. There has always been a public demand for political transparency, and social media has created a far more direct means for members of the public to communicate with political figures, as well as call them out when they get things wrong. At the conference, Modi used the fact that his birthday message to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Weibo went viral as an example of this impending change, but obviously that's a disproportionately trivial example.

What Modi didn't talk about was the ways in which Facebook and other platforms have opened up public international communications that have led to significant action. Without social media, a lot of the public outreach work to aid the Syrian refugees simply would not have happened, to say nothing of the in-depth public reports and appeals after the Nepal earthquake and dozens of other large-scale disasters.

Facebook have faced a lot of push-back from India about Internet.org, with many suggesting that they would rather wait longer to have full internet access than deal with a limited version with website access dictated by the boys in blue. This is the discrepancy that Zuckerberg isn't addressing, internet access will eventually go global regardless of Facebook's involvement, if they're going to push the envelope they need to remove any sense of agenda, because people will smell it from miles away.

Ultimately it doesn't really matter what the people behind Facebook and Twitter do, so long as they keep their heads above water, the growth and development of social media is largely defined by the people who use it. People want to feel connected to the rest of the world and the more that connection develops, the more diplomacy will play into it, as it becomes the most direct way to promote and monitor international relations. As is the way with so many things, social media isn't advancing the world's development, just running parallel with it.

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Can Social Media Really Revolutionise Diplomacy? Reviewed by Unknown on Friday, October 02, 2015 Rating: 5
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