In June 2018, Australia’s very own High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, the then titled Honourable Alexander Downer, and his Twitter faux pas splashed over the Australian news.  What did he do that made Aussie headlines?

Two weeks after officially leaving his post as High Commissioner, he used his ‘business’ account to tweet support to his daughter, Georgina Downer, who was forging a career in Australian politics.  The secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade Department, Frances Adamson, stated that Alexander Downer “mistakenly used the account instead of his own” stated the Adelaide Independent New Indaily, Friday, Jun 1, 2018.

The rapid evolution of mobile technology, together with the emergence of social media, has significantly changed, to communicating instantly, letting millions know facts, figures, actions, reactions, and interactions.  How can social media and diplomacy work hand-in-hand?

Modern public diplomacy is used for the promotion and enhancement of a countries profile, critical humanitarian and consular events, and the explanation of economic developments.  The use of public diplomacy allows for open, transparent, and accountable dialogue, which enhances friendly relations, monitors events, gauges public sentiment, gathers information, and explains government policies and programs.  However, the Australian government states in an Administrative Circular of July 2014 that social media does not replace traditional avenues of announcements.

It was noted that in 2009 the United States Government piloted a program that used social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook in the Middle East, “increasing citizen engagement and civic participation”.  Also, that year the Israeli Foreign Ministry said they wanted to use social media to “focus less on Palestinian issues and more on the Iranian threat.” (Zhang & Fahmy et al., 2015).

For those in the diplomatic or government services that are tweeting, blogging, and using social media to get their word across to the masses through real-time channels, what guidelines do they follow?  Guiding them is the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Ethics, Integrity and Professional Standards Policy Manual and the Department of Communications and Parliamentary Branch.  Which begs the question, what can we do as individuals that are not working for the government department? How can we use social media mindfully?  Here are four tips for using social media to your advantage:

“Is my social media account private?”

Whether you have a public or private profile on social media, you are still leaving a digital footprint.  Whatever you post in word, photo, video, audio, or emoji can be screen-grabbed and passed around quickly, without your knowledge.

“What are my intentions today?”

Post information you want people to know and won’t regret one week, one year, or ten years from posting.  Always post positively and professionally.  Using courtesy is the best practice today.

“How can I keep safe?”

Keep personal information, such as your address, birth date, etc. off social media as hackers are constantly harvesting and farming for your personal information.

“What content will I display and post today?”

Be wise with photos, audio, and videos you take of other people.  Try to pixelate, blur or cut people out the best you can unless you have their consent to publish.  Consider your comments and the emojis that you attach to your comments.  Emojis have a powerful effect as non-verbal cues.  Adding emojis to social posts could bring confusion in interpretation.

“Ensure Intercultural Intelligence”

Symbols, emojis, illustrations, metaphors, and even the contextual meaning of words can be interpreted and experienced differently across countries and cultures. Mind your social media had a borderless reach and can be resent by anyone who has received it directly or indirectly.

Make sure that you master intercultural intelligence so that your message is “global proof” and will not cause embarrassing situations for you and the entity that you are representing.

May you use social media wisely and mindfully.

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 Written by Elizabeth SOOS, an expert in Etiquette  

27 January 2022, Australia 

Category: Diplomacy 

Reference: ES270121D

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