delegation to NATO suggestively tweeted them a map. 42,000 retweets later, Russia’s
delegation tweeted a different map — one reflecting Russia’s annexation of Crimea — as a
response to ‘help their Canadian colleagues with contemporary geography of Europe’.
innovation have provided government with an untested tool for international diplomacy. This
yields new questions, challenges and opportunities, as governments learn how best to use
social media (e.g. as a means of advancing national and international security interests). Social
media has already found success in further engaging individuals on global issues, but how does
the government of Canada use such a malleable tool to advance our own security interests?
complement to bilateral diplomacy. While Canada’s map tweet may have been seen by the international community more as posturing by a military middleweight, whether intentionally or not, the tweet reconfirmed the inherent effectiveness of social media: it is the best tool ever invented for reaching and engaging the masses in real time. The Map tweet demonstrates that our Government has opportunities to utilize social media to spur public engagement, particularly on issues where official negotiations have become stalled or failed to take place.
This is especially important in the area of international security, where social media is emerging as a crucial instrument with game-changing implications. On one hand, twitter may help a government gain support in the public sphere, as we have seen for Canada: while tweeting out did not lead to the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine, it was a calculated move that generated support for Ukraine, and for Canada, both internationally and domestically. More important than raising awareness and support, however, the decision to use social media in such a manner has contributed significantly to advancing the public discourse on this issue.
Global connectivity has opened up a forum for ideas and empowered individuals to express their ideas while listening to others. Earlier this year, public discourse on the Russia-Ukraine conflict took the form of a moderated, time-flexible, e-mail exchange between academics residing in Russia, Ukraine, and Canada in an effort to find common ground. The lengthy exchange, while unsuccessful in finding much common ground, raised awareness and opened new channels of communication.
Even for those with limited access to the internet, we have made and can continue to make
progress. In 2013, the Munk School of Global Affairs — this time in collaboration with DFATD --
held an online discussion with Iranians living in Iran and abroad. By creating a safe and
uncensored environment for Iranians to share their views on a variety of crowd-sourced topics,
Canadians were able to listen and convey support from afar. Once more, this exchange
demonstrated that a social media network has unique advantages, capable of connecting
communities in ways that were not possible before and helping us to find common ground, especially when official relations/negotiations break down.
On sites like Facebook and Twitter we are learning to live together, we are learning to grow up in shared space. Social media has opened up potential for cross-culture engagement, understanding, and reconciliation. Building upon the success of the dialogue on the future of Iran, the partnership between Munk School and the Government of Canada is set to continue with a new initiative mandated to use digital space to facilitate open political dialogue in regions where this would otherwise not be possible.
Moving from the digital to the tangible is the example of the multi-ethnic city-state of Singapore, the benefits of a society where cross-cultural integration is facilitated -- in fact obligatory -- have been on display for some time. In a recent interview, Deputy Prime Minster Teo Chee Hean explained that Singapore was able to profit from diversity by ensuring that neighbourhoods would not be established as segregated enclaves. By doing so, people do everyday things together, interact with one another, and importantly, their kids grow up together. Singapore's experience suggests that effective communication between and among races is fundamental to achieving social harmony.
Moving back into the digital world a question remains: can Twitter, among other varying tools of social media, be the catalyst for social harmony discussed in the Singapore example? Progress may be slow, but the progress that has been made has positive implications for international security, and ultimately Canada’s national security.
In summary, our government’s social media strategy should be dedicated to increasing public
engagement through various channels of e-diplomacy, leading to a greater exchange of ideas
and a better understanding of differences. To the extent that our government is able to listen
and learn from the meaningful progress that can be made over social media, it will be able to
build upon its success.
The challenge, for our government, will be to find a balance, to encourage lively discussion and
engagement through social media without allowing partisan bias to engage based on
its own agenda.