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The Vienna Convention on Cyberspace: The Gorchakov Fund hosted an expert discussion about the digital diplomacy phenomenon

Today, on April 13, the Gorchakov Fund has hosted expert discussion “Digital diplomacy: Can new technologies completely transform world politics?”. Russian and foreign experts in digital diplomacy took part in the event. The topic of the discussion was influence of social media on diplomacy, the role of high technologies in diplomatic communications and interconnections between IT companies and government.

A recording of the discussion is available on the YouTube channel of the Gorchakov Fund in Russian and English.

The meeting was opened by moderator of the discussion, expert of the Center for Advanced Governance Oleg Shakirov, who said that if previously digital diplomacy had been viewed as an element of public diplomacy, at present that phenomenon was also affecting other aspects of foreign-policy activities.

Various diplomatic institutions in many countries are beginning to implement digital technologies into their work (by expanding their presence on social media and conducting analysis of statements made by users on different topics using special programs). Artificial intelligence (AI) solutions are widely applied by diplomats in China to develop scenarios of events on the international arena. AI is also becoming more and more used during complex trade negotiations. For example, IBM came up with Cognitive Trade Advisor, which allows negotiators to search for compromise solutions by combining AI, data analysis and cloud computing.

Sergey Kiryushin, Ambassador-at-Large, Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia for Digital Transformation, made a short presentation of the strategy for further digitization of activities developed by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Mr. Kiryushin also mentioned that if the ministry set a goal for increasing its presence on social media, the only option would be to train designated staff members and also control their actions on social media on behalf of the agency.

The participants of the event discussed the need for establishing some kind of Vienna Convention for Cyberspace to identify action strategies for diplomats on social media.

The coronavirus pandemic has introduced its changes into the work of foreign-policy institutions: thus, it is becoming more and more common to deliver diplomatic credentials to a foreign government over a video conference and for diplomats-interns to participate in virtual tours rather than taking actual trips abroad. International negotiations have also been transferred into the online format. Nicholas Cull, Professor at Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, University of South California, analyzed similar changes and emphasized the important role of digital technologies in the diplomatic work.

According to the expert, IT companies should understand the power they have: “If we want to raise a level of responsibility, countries should put certain pressure on the companies active in that field. An important task facing every country today is the need to better inform the legislative power about new technologies”, believes Professor Cull.

Now, having a page on social media is not simply a requirement for a politician, but also a way to directly communicate with the electorate and the world. The brightest example was provided by former US President Donald Trump, who transformed Twitter into a powerful weapon: there he was announcing changes in his team, threatening with wars and directing movements of the stock exchange by just saying one phrase.

Read more in Russian here