[April 29, 2014] The U.S. State Department is being ridiculed and mocked for using social media Twitter to draw support for the Ukraine and opposing Russian moves in that country. It’s being called “hashtag diplomacy.” Critics are pointing out it may do nothing other than embarrass the United States. Many are questioning, for example, whether the senior leadership of State is even in the driver’s seat1,2,3.
State Department diplomacy certainly has changed in the last few years. But do they deserve the avalanche of criticism for their use of social media? Is this form of raising awareness really that impotent of a tool? I’m not so sure the critics are right. And perhaps the judgment of State’s success or failure in the attempt is still undecided.
Over the past several years, the State Department has been criticized for a number of dramatic failures that are without debate in most cases. There was the debacle in Benghazi where the ambassador himself and others were killed, and then blamed on a video which turned out to be false. In this case, the embassy requested additional security and were refused. Or perhaps it’s the current Secretary of State who has been putting out anti-Israeli comments over the past few days.
Certainly the tactics of State are changing and with change they can expect much but not praise until a track record of success is established. Their senior leadership must have a deep understanding of such tactics and foresight into what it may or may not accomplish. Diplomacy is not something that is normally done quickly, it is something worked slowly over long periods, building credibility, trust, and confidence in the United States and its people.
Critics of State will say this new hashtag diplomacy hurts the State Department’s credibility and makes the U.S. look like amateurs in a dangerous world. The view of the world toward the U.S. has certainly declined. Hashtag diplomacy perhaps is a compliment to its “hip-hop diplomacy” where we send hip-hop artists to talk about American inclusiveness to Muslim youths.
We are respected less and feared less. Perhaps that is the strategy of State’s senior leadership, but if it is, we should all find it a bit unsettling.
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