The Digital Diplomacy Revolution: Why Is Canada Lagging Behind?

From the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute:

A new report by Roland Paris, CDFAI Senior Fellow and Director of the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa, examines the burgeoning world of digital diplomacy and concludes that Canada is falling behind in the communications revolution. Paris states that “the practice of international diplomacy is undergoing a revolution.” The first example of this being that many countries, including the US and Britain, “now expect their diplomats to use social media as a regular part of their job.” In order for this to be effective traditional one-way communication through press releases and key messages no longer works, instead diplomats “need to interact, not broadcast.” Paris states that those foreign ministries that fail to adapt to this new way of communicating will gradually lose influence.

The report demonstrates that Canada is one country failing to adapt to this new way of communicating. Paris determines that one of the reasons for this is “the Conservative government’s centralized and restrictive control of communications, which makes it virtually impossible for Canadian diplomats to engage in real-time public exchanges, the currency of social media.” He argues that the only way for Canada to be successful in the social media world is to “allow Canadian diplomats, and particularly our ambassadors, to speak publicly on social media without seeking prior approval from Ottawa.”

Canada has tried to engage in the new communications environment, including launching an account on the Chinese microblogging platform, Sina Weibo, but, as Paris states “it was created without the approval of DFAIT headquarters” or the communication “gatekeepers in the Prime Minister’s Office.” Paris contends that “diplomats should not be expected to take such professional risks in order to do their jobs.”

The report concludes that “unless Canada joins the US and Britain in embracing new channels and methods of diplomacy, Canada’s voice will progressively fade in international affairs, along with its influence.”

The complete report is available on the CDFAI website.


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