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How to Ensure Digital Campaigns Create Actual Change

Digital campaigns are fascinating even if one does not run an online campaign for his or her organization. By now, millions of people are aware of the UN Women’s HeForShe campaign. Nearly 7 million people have watched Emma Watson’s powerful speech on YouTube and close to 300,000 men around the world have committed to stand up for women’s rights via the campaign’s webpage.

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UN Social Media Day

The first UN Social Media Day will take place at UN Headquarters on Friday, January 30, 2015. UN grounds pass holders are welcome to attend the event, featuring panel discussions and briefings by high-profile experts about the constantly changing social media landscape.

Social media professionals, digital diplomacy practitioners and academics will share their experience, discuss trends and provide interesting insights into their work.

The event will be opened by Maher Nasser, Acting Head of the UN Department of Public Information, followed by a keynote speech delivered by Adam Snyder of Burson-Marsteller on the latest “Twiplomacy” study.
The event will be divided into three panels:
  • Tweeting from the Top: Ambassadors and Digital Diplomacy
  • Making the Most of Social Media Platforms
  • Social Media Trends for 2015


Three short “TED” style talks will also showcase how three different organizations have used the power of digital media to create online movements through strategic storytelling, community-generated content and amplifying action.

All are invited to join the conversation online by using the hashtag #SocialUN. The day will also be webcast live via the UN Webcast and on the UN YouTube channel.

This one-day event is jointly organised by the UN Department of Public Information’s Social Media Team, the Digital Diplomacy Coalition, the Consulate General of Canada, the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations, the New Zealand Permanent Mission to the United Nations, the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations, and the Consulate General of Switzerland.

More details here.

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Exciting times for the Digital Diplomacy Coalition

We welcomed a Deputy Foreign Minister, senior government advisors, as well as dozens more diplomats driving innovation from within government and key private sector individuals integrating outside technologies and expertise into the public sector.

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e-Estonia: Building a Digital Society

What if it took you less than five minutes and no accountants to get your taxes done? Or how about voting in parliament elections online, while on a trip to Fiji? Would you like to set up a new company and have it legal and running within 20 minutes? What about signing business contracts or official documents digitally, without leaving your office – or living room? What if you never had any checkbooks from your bank or parking meters on the streets?

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Watch: Upcoming Trends in Digital Diplomacy

The Digital Diplomacy Coalition, in partnership with Tumblr and the Consulate General of Canada in New York, presented a panel discussion on 28 October at Tumblr HQ in New York City to explore trends in digital diplomacy to predict where we are heading and how technology is impacting international relations and international organizations.


  • Jim Rosenberg – Chief of Digital Strategy, UNICEF
  • Liba Rubenstein – Director of Strategy and Outreach, Tumblr
  • Emily Parker – Digital Diplomacy Advisor and Senior Fellow, New America Foundation and author of Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices From the Internet Underground

:  Carne Ross – Founder, Independent Diplomat and former British diplomat

Opening Remarks by Canadian Consul General in New York, John F. Prato.

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Understanding The True Meaning of Engagement


By Maria Belovas, Member of the DDC Washington Chapter Leadership Team

The digital diplomacy conversation has moved beyond the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to new levels of listening and engagement. This sentiment was stressed recently in Washington at the Digital Diplomacy Coalition’s (DDC) “Progressive Nation Building in the Age of Digital Diplomacy” panel.

The panelists, as well as the moderator were no strangers to the theme:

  • Petrit Selimi – Deputy Foreign Minister of Kosovo and author of Kosovo’s National Strategy on Digital Diplomacy
  • Joakim Edvardsson Reimar – Head of Swedish Digital Diplomacy
  • Gökhan Yücel – President of and “Turkish Digital Age Geek”
  • Jimmy Leach – Portland Communications Digital Consultant and former Head of Digital Diplomacy at the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)

Tasked with moderating that bunch? James Barbour – Minister Counselor & Head of Press and Public Diplomacy at the EU Delegation in Washington, formerly Head of Communications at the British Embassies in both Washington and Moscow.

Although each participant presented their views at a slightly different angle, none of them questioned the significance of digital tools in achieving diplomatic goals. Having worked in this field for a while I am glad to see that the conversation has moved from ‘Why’ and ‘How’ to ‘How to be even better’. And as Joakim Reimar stressed – it is essential to be good at this, because when you’re not you will only hurt yourself (your country).

So how can governments be good at using digital tools for diplomacy? Definitely not by using those tools as an extension to how things have been done in the past. As Jimmy Leach put it – “in the past digital diplomacy was tweeting a photo of two men shaking hands in front of a 19th century painting”. Of course you can do that too, once in a while. But will that transform the way nations interact with one another? Will that empower citizens to act as ambassadors of their country?

Back to my question – how? First of all you listen. The most important conversations today do not necessarily take place behind closed doors in fancy buildings. There are communities, forums, interest groups where real people deal with real issues. There are also misconceptions going around which could easily be overturned by providing accurate information. You won’t be able to do that if you don’t listen. And if you hear about them in the evening news…well it’s too late now isn’t it?

You listen carefully. And then you speak. You speak about what is important to you in a way which inspires others to take action, to keep the conversation going. Meanwhile you do not stop listening. A conversation requires two-way communication. This is what digital engagement should look like and I am not saying it is an easy task.

Governments are not always eager to truly engage. Engagement is arguably foreign to the ways in which governments traditionally operate. There is a lot of talk about two way communication but it sadly often boils down to officials posting press releases on social media and counting “likes” and “retweets”. This isn’t success, nor does it truly have an impact.

Tougher yet, often the people who have mostly been receivers of information in the public sphere, traditionally called “the audience”, aren’t always prepared  to interact as equal counterparts of the “serious” conversations.

But governments are made up of people too. We’re all people as a matter of fact. And we have these amazing technological possibilities to listen and to be heard. The more governments recognize  this – and the more they see “the audience” as “the community” – the more governments will be able to have a meaningful digital impact.


Maria Belovas is responsible for Public Diplomacy and Media Relations at the Embassy of Estonia in Washington. She is also a member of the DDC Washington Chapter Leadership Team. All views expressed are solely those of the author and may not reflect the views of her employer or the Digital Diplomacy Coalition.

This post follows our recent “Progressive Nation Building in the Age of Digital Diplomacy” panel. Watch the video here.

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Start Spreading The News!

The Digital Diplomacy Coalition (DDC) is growing yet again! We’re excited to welcome DDC New York to our Network as our second expansion DDC Chapter.

What’s a DDC Chapter? 

A DDC Chapter is a local (city, country or regional) organization in the DDC Network designed to bring together the diplomatic, international affairs, and tech communities from the local area. Each chapter is lead by a small group of volunteers from the local DDC community.

The DDC community started as a handful of digital practitioners in Washington, DC gathering to talk shop and share our stories. Today we have held over 25 key events, ranging from workshops to thought leadership panels to half-day conferences. We’ve engaged with over 3000 diplomats, technologists & communicators in Washington, DC and beyond. We’ve also partnered with some amazing organizations — Google, Fosterly, FleishmanHillard, the UN Foundation, 1776, SAIS, foreign governments & embassies, and many others.

DDC New York will be holding a Digital Diplomacy Happy Hour on 22 September to introduce the DDC to New York, and tease their upcoming formal launch event in October.

The New York Chapter follows Ottawa which launched this past June. We are actively working in other cities to build DDC Chapters and expand our DDC Network to build a truly global community.

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Diplomatic Tweets Getting Lots of Attention

A couple diplomatic tweets have caught quite a bit of attention lately. What do you think? Should governments be engaging in more clever and web-savvy ways, or have they gone too far? Have your say in the comments below.


The Russian Mission to NATO responded to the Canadian Tweet with their own map:

ICYMI – This is how the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded when Russian forces entered southeastern Ukraine from Russia:

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Policy and Legal Considerations for Government’s Use of Analytics

By Allen Brandt, Legal and Policy Fellow, Future of Privacy Forum

Government agencies, like many private organizations, use social media for a variety of purposes. At its most basic form, monitoring of social media gives the agency feedback on how your constituents feel your agency is performing its duties; if you are seeing many complaints and negative statements posted, it might give insight into how to improve services. Some governments, however, are using social media or website tools to track their citizens, with potentially harmful results.

With the continually-decreasing cost of data storage, it is now easier and cheaper to keep data than it is to systematically delete it, so you can now hold an ever-increasing history of your users, their interactions with your web and social media sites or other people, and using simple tools, the ability to identify and track the identities of these users, and the use of this history could be in conflict with local or international data privacy laws.

A major use of social media by governments around the world is to relay official announcements, press releases and statements in a consistent and coherent way. One government agency in India, taking a cue from the new Prime Minister, has mandated that every government department post both a tweet and a Facebook post, at least once every 15 days, regarding their agency’s welfare schemes or achievements. The use of social media, in addition to speed, has the advantage of lower costs, since your agency can get official announcements published to your constituents at essentially no cost.

Privacy Policy

Does your agency have an easy to find privacy policy, written in plain language? For U.S. Government sites, writing in clear language “that the public can understand and use” is now the standard, starting from the Plain Writing Act of 2010 and the Executive Orders that follow. For others, take the effort to have your websites and social media postings written for your audience. In many global organizations, that may mean insuring that your writing is to a 6th or 8th grade level. If you are unable to have your privacy policies rewritten into easy to understand language, consider adding an easy summary section to the beginning, where a user can get a one or two sentence description for each part with a link to the longer, more formal language, sometimes called a “layered privacy notice”, and are considered an industry best practice. This is especially important if your audience is multinational, such as USAID or the State Department in the US, or for your customs or immigration accounts.


As a big advocate in transparency: do your public facing policies match the actual practices that your agency has in place? Doing this often eliminates constituent FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), and goes a long way towards your agency’s credibility, and the elimination, or at least minimization of your users’ surprises. One recommendation is to review your policies against actual practices on an annual basis. In the private sector, an organization failing to have their actual practices match their website statements could lead, in the US, to a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) section 5 violation, commonly called an unfair or deceptive trade practice, in the UK, an Unfair Trading Regulation, and other countries are similar.

Data Collection

A privacy concern is the potential secondary uses of this collected data. First, it’s seemingly impossible to give proper notice to a social media or website user for future uses of their information that are not yet known at the time of collection. Mass collection of personal data, without consent by the individual or another legal basis, could be in violation of both EU and US data protection laws. And some secondary uses, especially those for the public good, would be generally seen as positive, such as using social media after a hurricane or natural disaster, when normal telephone or mobile service was overloaded or slow, if working at all. Of course, with the speed and available to all access of social media, rumors and false information can be just as easily transmitted. After Hurricane Sandy, FEMA published a rumor control website, giving people the real story on what was happening and ways to contact them via phone, website or mobile device. The First Responder website offers guidance, best practices and lessons learned from the use of government agency’s use of social media during times of disaster.

But care should be taken for secondary uses of data that might not be universally appreciated. While a user’s social media name might be personal data, as it is in the US under GSA guidelines or would be under most EU laws, removing the individual identifiers to use, share and analyze the data without the means of identifying any individual has many advantages, including the ability perform research and analysis without risk of identifying any user. Google shares anonymized data with the public for both flu and dengue trends, allowing health officials to better respond to outbreaks. Working with university and other researchers may give your agency additional options to remove individual identifiers from social media logs and allow you to use and analyze the data without the risk of potential disclosure.

Using anonymized Google data to help determine where the flu might be headed is one thing, but to track or potentially identify users who may be searching for information about a communicable or socially unacceptable disease, and the use of this information could lead to legal or labor issues, Privacy Act violations, Genetic Information Act issues, or other problems, should be something to be avoided.

Finally, care should be taken that uses of collected data do not profile individuals, or perform some algorithm that disadvantages any individual (the concept of algorithmic accountability or insuring that your data processing is fair, just non-discriminatory, and in conformance with society’s standards and norms), and the credibility of your agency may depend, in large part, on the public’s perception of how they are treated and if they feel that their person information is being protected.

International, Host Country, and Domestic Laws

Remember that all data that your agency collects in your home country, and under many foreign laws, could be subject to eDiscovery or the ability of citizens to request that your agency produce for inspection, the information that you hold on an individual. The data that you collect or use for analysis have privacy impacts, often subject to various and often conflicting legal and use rules, conflicts between intelligence gathering and the internal agency’s policies, and requests for secondary uses.

Ask your agency’s privacy office and general counsel for guidance, or other agencies, to learn what they are doing and create your own policies and procedures that work for you, and help educate your agency’s management on these issues and how to navigate them.



Allen Brandt is an attorney who has merged his technical skills with delivering practical data protection and privacy advice, bringing more than 20 years of experience in the technology and information industries. He also served as a panelist at the Digital Diplomacy Coalition’s “Digital Diplomacy and Proactive Monitoring: Challenges to Solutions” event with the Open Technology Institute and Future Tense at the New America Foundation in Washington DC.

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Digital Diplomacy and Proactive Monitoring: Challenges to Solutions

In today’s increasingly connected world, proactive data monitoring makes it possible for organizations to listen to their communities and evaluate interactions, creating rich insights into digital engagement. But wonderful as these technologies are, there are challenges—especially when it comes to government use. Data monitoring can raise questions about privacy, what information the government is collecting, and how it is being used. This discussion explored how governments can balance these very real concerns with their need for situational awareness, data-driven strategy, and community engagement.

Josh Keating  Slate


  • Julie Weckerlein  US Department of Health and Human Services
  • Mohamad Najem  New America Foundation and Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
  • Allen Brandt  Legal and Policy Fellow, Future of Privacy Forum
  • Christopher Harvin – Barbaricum and Sanitas International

Presented by the Digital Diplomacy Coalition, the Open Technology Institute and Future Tense at the New America Foundation in Washington DC.

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