From digital diplomacy to data diplomacy — By Cathryn Clüver Ashbrook on IPS Journal EU

The digital revolution arrived late at the heart of Western diplomacy. But greater data capacities hold a lot of promise

Diplomacy has been changing because of Big Data, AI and other technological developments

The digital revolution arrived late at the heart of ministries of foreign affairs across the Western world. Ministries latched on to social media around the time of Tahrir Square and Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution, beguiled by a vision of the technology engendering a networked evolution toward more liberal societies.

Foreign ministries scrambled to make ‘Twitter-Diplomacy’ part of their push-strategy in strategic communication and began, though arguably too slowly, to analyse US-based digital platform-generated data to inform foreign policy decisions. ‘Tech for Good’ was the universal assumption a decade ago.

Since then, the impact of hyper-connectivity and its effect on hierarchically organised, slow-moving Western foreign and development policy organisations has become clearer and far less simple.

Unbridled by legal barriers or democratic institutional control, China practices a brand of digital colonialism abroad and sells wide-scale surveillance in Africa and Asia. Russia has gone on the offence, unleashing troll armies and hacker collectives upon Europe and the United States as the new face of Moscow’s international power


Big data aggregation could also help identify disinformation campaigns targeted against a certain country more quickly and accurately. Chat bots are already improving the more tedious aspects of consular affairs, supporting registration processes or legal aid for refugees. Much as geo-coding and social media mapping is already helping Global Affairs Canada and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office understand where their messages resonate most effectively, in the near-term future a bigger volume of data and increased interpretation capacities might be used to locate citizens in need and to monitor social media to predict possible consular crises.

For the core work of diplomacy — negotiation — the capacity to engage big data analytics could serve to remove bias, aggregate data on possible negotiation impacts (i.e. on large groups of national or foreign citizens or corporations) and pull together geospatial and sensor data for more objective, fact-based information gathering and generally support better, evidence-based decision making. To realise the advantages of these data streams, the data will have to be harnessed and interpreted by trained analysts and diplomats.

Read full on:  IPS Journal EU

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