The role of the ambassador has changed drastically over the years. The first officially recognized ambassadors were regarded as the personal representatives of their country's government. The main task was to convey information between country leaders in a world where communication was tedious, unreliable and slow. In essence, the communication had a very horizontal flow: Government - Diplomat - Government. Diplomacy was a closed communication channel - often referred to as elitist and secretive. Today, the role encompasses a more vertical communication component as well.
The Ambassador 2.0 (from here on referred to as "A2.0") has the task to convey and receive information to and from civil society as well. The A2.0 exchanges information not only with governments, but also with civil groups, businesses, NGO's and various other stakeholders. As such, it is important to communicate directly with these entities. Yes, this often entails bypassing the government. This is particularly relevant in destabilised countries, where civil groups are gaining power, such as during revolutions. The A2.0 now has the ability to influence more entities than just the local government. In addition, the new communication channels also enable the A2.0 to receive a more diverse picture on developments in the host country. The A2.0 not only receives the official information by the government, but can also look into what the civilian population thinks. The increased usage of online communication tools, such as Twitter and Facebook, by embassies and there representatives are testament to this development. These channels have certainly become an important pillar of diplomatic communications.
Alec Ross was the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s top “Digital Diplomat”. The picture above shows him on a visit to Pakistan in 2011 where he and his team shared experiences on the use of technology in governments and diplomacy.
- Link: Digital Diplomat