Last week, one of the Disruptors was interviewed by international media on social media and foreign policy. We’ve included our response below. The focus was political, but the comments on social media as a tool for action pertain to business as much as international relations.
Modern political leaders understand that social media provides them a channel to communicate with the world that is not filtered by the editor’s pen in media, or by the lawyer’s prudence or the public relations officer’s glitter stick. And what’s more, leaders understand that the public are all too keen to hear that unfiltered message, because it has the aura of authenticity. But of course we also know that there is such a thing as self-censorship, and self-aggrandisement. And social media are providing an opportunity for leaders to make comments that may not only serve themselves, but may seriously damage international relations. It’s a double-edged sword. And it turns out that the filtering provided by traditional media, legal teams and PR consultants is needed for persons who lack self-control.
In terms of foreign policy, social media can provide an excellent opportunity to mobilise interest around public interest issues that affect economic productivity and living standards. We’ve seen evidence of this particularly around issues such as climate change and social equity. But as Evgeny Morozov has argued
, it is not enough to assume that social media can bring about change on its own. There is still a need for people to act ‘in the real world’ to achieve lasting change.
Finally, it is important to note that just as social media can be used to draw the attention of the world to instances of unfair or inappropriate behaviour, it can also be used to critique and silence dissident voices, and to provoke fear, extending and entrenching the power of existing leaders. As such, we need to be careful in relying on the supposed authenticity of social media as a tool of foreign, or even domestic policy. And while leaders are presently capitalising on the opportunities that social media represent to serve their own interests, I see a time in the near future where not just the few, but the masses will respond with significant cynicism to social media content. It won’t go out of fashion. It’s just that people will become more discerning in their consumption of social content.