Comms + policy. Author of #digitaldiplomacy (2015), Twitter for Diplomats (2013). My views here.
While still being rooted in tradition, diplomacy is changing. And so is the role of ambassadors. The nature of diplomacy itself — its DNA — is desperately trying to adapt to an ever changing, hyper-connected world in which non-state actors and a glocal approach seem to have a much bigger role.
In a new effort to better interact with the tech community — given the role of technology in today’s world and its impact on citizens — Denmark is naming a new tech ambassador who will represent the government with Internet companies.
“Just as we engage in a diplomatic dialogue with countries, we also need to establish and prioritize comprehensive relations with tech actors, such as Google, Facebook, Apple, and so on,” Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen told The Washington Post.
“The idea is, we see a lot of companies and new technologies that will in many ways involve and be part of everyday life of citizens in Denmark. And some [of these companies] also have a size that is comparable to nations.”
Indeed, the size of some of the world’s biggest tech companies is comparable to countries, whether you look at them in terms of population (or users) or in terms of economic impact.
In fact, if you compare the biggest countries in terms of population and the monthly active users of some of the largest social networks, a whopping 15 out of 20 are in the digital space, not sovereign nations. Obviously the comparison is forced, but it provides an easy picture of the size and impact of the Internet on the real world.
TOP 2016 RANKING (by estimated population or monthly active users):
1. Facebook 1,712 million 11. US 323
2. China 1,373 12. Twitter 313
3. India 1.266 13. Baidu Tieba 300
4. WhatsApp 1,000 13. Skype 300
4. Messenger 1,000 14. Sina Weibo 282
5. QQ 899 15. Indonesia 258
6. WeChat 806 16. Viber 249
7. QZone 652 17. Line 218
8. Tumblr 555 18. Brazil 205
9. EU 513 19. Pakistan 201
10. Instagram 500 20. Snapchat 200
While China and India remain the most populous countries in the world, they are outpaced by Facebook in terms of numbers. WhatsApp and Messenger are both 4th and Instagram is 10th. Outside of the Facebook family of apps and tools, Tumblr is 8th, while Twitter, quite static in the ranking with a little over 300 million users, is 12th and Snapchat, with around 200 million MAUs, ranks 20th. In China, Tencent controls QQ, WeChat, and QZone, which are 5th, 6th, and 7th in the list. Weibo ranks right after Twitter, in 13th position.
The sheer numbers are a representation of these companies’ economic impact.
“In economic terms, the scale of these enterprises can be compared to that of your average country. If Apple were a state, its profits would ground it firmly within the G20…minus the debt and unemployment!,” French Senator Nathalie Goulet commented on The Huffington Post.
While Denmark’s decision is unique as it creates an official ambassadorship to the tech community — embedded within the foreign ministry — it is not the first time governments interact with Internet giants. As Inc. reports: “In the U.K., Matt Hancock serves as minister of state for digital and culture, overseeing cyber-security and digital markets, among other things. Back in 2014, France appointed Axelle Lemaire to the post of ‘digital minister,’ where she’s now pushing for more companies to startup locally.”
Samuelsen assures that the decision is not symbolic.
“This tech ambassador will have a tight connection to the rest of our system,” he said. “They will work with the embassies all around the world and use the staff all around the world also. This tech ambassador will not in any way be alone, they will have a big system behind their back that will work together with them. And they will make sure that we have a good relation with these companies.”
I do believe that the intersection between tradition and innovation is key for the future of diplomacy… Whether it’s about the use of social media in foreign policy, interacting with less traditional players and actors, embracing a true culture of innovation, or posting ambassadors to tech industry.
And I do agree with Samuelsen when he says: “Instead of just leaning back and looking only at the world as it was yesterday, we have to think of the world as it will become tomorrow — and perhaps as it is already today.”
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