Back To Top

Digital diplomacy has its bright and dark aspects

New media, including social networking services such as Facebook and Twitter, is forging a “digital diplomacy” far different from that of traditional media, said a U.S. government official.

Victoria Esser, deputy assistant secretary for digital strategy at the U.S. State Department, speaks during a forum in Seoul on Friday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Victoria Esser, deputy assistant secretary for digital strategy at the U.S. State Department, speaks during a forum in Seoul on Friday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)


Victoria Esser, deputy assistant secretary for digital strategy at the U.S. State Department, said foreign policy making under the influence of SNS is transforming into a process that interacts directly with people, during the East-West Center’s third International Media Conference on Friday.

“Foreign policy is no longer just discussed at summits,” said Esser.

“Technology has really enabled people around the world to have direct and real-time voice and policy conversations both with their governments and with each other.”

The power of SNS was demonstrated during the Arab Spring when civil revolt ousted several authoritarian regimes in Middle-East and North Africa, she said. Rapid exchange of opinions via several SNS sites is widely considered to be one of the key factors in such revolution, she said.

(Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
(Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)


Esser also mentioned last year’s earthquake and nuclear crisis in Japan as an example of SNS playing a major role in interacting with citizens. Much of the information about the disaster was shared via social media, making it a trusted source of information over the Japanese government, which was not keen to release full details of the crisis, she said.

However, the new digital way also has adverse effects, some of which can have a critical impact, Esser noted.

She said that rumors in South Korea that the U.S. was exporting cows infected with mad cow disease spread through SNS, fueling anti-U.S. sentiment and nation-wide protests, and hindering free trade negotiations between the two countries. Esser said in such cases, however, the majority of the online community tends to shout down the extremists, working as a “self-correcting mechanism.”

She argued that social media alone cannot be the sole outlet for foreign policy, and has to be used alongside traditional means of diplomacy.

Esser was among hundreds of journalists and media experts gathered from more than 100 news organizations in 25 countries in Seoul to discuss the impact of new media in the Asia Pacific region from Friday to Sunday at Yonsei University.

“The topic, digital media and new media is very interesting. This area is growing so quickly over the years. It’s great to take part in this (conference) and to see what the new and current thinking and technology is,” said journalist Glenn Van Zutphen from Singapore, who attended the biennial forum twice.

There were three main topics at the Seoul forum: How social media is shaping news stories on Friday, internet freedom and people power vs. government on Saturday, and the two Koreas ― most wired and most remote ― on Sunday.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)

(Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
(Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
MOST POPULAR