What affect does this have?
Can digital diplomacy affect how international students and other immigrants to Canada remain connected with their country of birth or origin? If so, can this connection affect how they view being a Canadian citizen?
In order to explore these questions, a small sample survey was developed to ask students in the Masters of Global Affairs program at the University of Toronto, their thoughts and ideas regarding digital diplomacy.
The ethnic/geographical background of the 14 participants surveyed can be observed below.
From the survey came several conclusions:
1. Not all states engage in digital diplomacy. Or do they?
When asked if their country of birth engaged in digital diplomacy, only 5 responded, “Yes,” and as many responded, “Not Sure.” What this may indicate is either not all governments engage in digital diplomacy (a valid assumption), or respondents were not aware of it However, it is evident that each reported country of birth/origin (except for China and Nigeria), does at least have a government-operated Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Twitter account.
2. Social media is an important tool for immigrants in Canada to stay connected to their country of origin/birth.
Although several respondents did not believe or know if their country of birth/origin participated in digital diplomacy, many did agree that they personally utilized social media sites, particularly Facebook and Twitter, as well as news sites to remain “connected.” When asked if they felt politically “aware” of their countries of origin/birth, “ 85% said, “Yes.” Over 77% also indicated that they utilize social media platforms in order to stay politically “aware” and connected: over 40% indicated that they do so everyday.
What is particularly interesting however is the respondents’ answers indicate the democratization of diplomacy thanks to social media and the Internet. Historically, states’ have monopolized diplomacy, but with the accessibility of the Internet (an estimated 3.174billion people today have access), citizens have become the agents of diplomacy by spreading news, ideas, and events occurring within their country through non-government sanctioned sources: a phenomenon related to the idea of citizen diplomacy. Friends, family and even celebrities “back home,” allow international students and migrants to stay “connected” to their country of origin/birth and even engage in diplomacy through the Internet and personal social media accounts.
3. Engaging in digital diplomacy, does not necessarily negate “loyalty” to Canada.
There are over 863,000 dual nationals in Canada today, and surprisingly, in a survey conducted in 2012 by The Environics Institute, 23% of Canadians indicated that Canadian citizens should not be allowed to hold dual citizenship. 48% believed dual citizenship equated to a lack of “loyalty/commitment” to Canada.
For this survey respondents were asked about a specific idea of “loyalty,” meaning patriotic or nationalistic feelings toward Canada, and if remaining politically aware and connected to their country of birth/origin, particularly through digital diplomacy, affected that.
The respondents had mixed reactions to this question. Approximately 7 indicated “No.” One stated, “I do not think digital diplomacy would impact my perception...I’m less motivated by the regular tweet, but by economic opportunities.” While another believed digital diplomacy was unimportant because lived experience had a greater effect. Interestingly, another respondent stated it would have no effect because, “after living in different countries, my patriotism/nationalism to either country is not very strong.”
In contrast, 5 respondents indicated, “Yes.” Two strongly believed that following government social media accounts, and hearing news through friends “back home” shaped how they viewed their Canadian citizenship. As one respondent explained, “the encounter with news and developments, and their portrayal in media shapes our views of the world, and inevitably of our “new” country.”
So what does this all mean?
Digital diplomacy, like the Croatian tweet, is a part of a much bigger movement that may essentially change the notions of citizenship, patriotism, nationalism and loyalty. In most cases, migrant communities stay connected through what is known as, digital Diasporas, which essentially become agents of digital diplomacy by sharing news, stories and updates of their country of origin/birth. However, moving between countries and living in multiple societies, particularly for younger immigrants like those surveyed, a sense of being a global citizen is created, and loyalty to one country or state is somewhat irrelevant.
Simply put, digital diplomacy alone does not necessarily alter ones loyalty. It may, however, be an aspect of a trend towards global citizenship that is blurring the parameters of patriotism, nationalism and citizenship. For people like those surveyed, many of whom lived in 3 countries or more, citizenship is less a duty and more a necessity. To some, it is just a name etched on their passport, unaffected by digital diplomacy schemes.
Digital Diplomacy is the growing use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), and social media platforms by a country in order to achieve its foreign policy goals and practice Public Diplomacy.
Several were concerned with this definition of digital diplomacy however, as well as the importance of the concept in politics. One respondent stated: “a firm handshake speaks volumes compared to a simple tweet amongst parties.” While another believed there was a lot missing from this definition; for instance what kind of “education and influence” is the diplomacy for? Is it solely used for this purpose?