Публичная дипломатия или публичная глокализация? Переосмысление публичной дипломатии в эпоху постправды

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Салью Х.

PhD в области медиа и коммуникаций, декан факультета массовых коммуникаций колледжа AAB, г. Приштина

e-mail: hasan.saliu@aab-edu.net

Раздел: Теория журналистики и СМИ

Публичная дипломатия – это коммуникация государственных и негосударственных акторов c зарубежными пабликами, имеющая позитивные цели. Сегодня, в эпоху Интернета, принципы публичной дипломатии изменились. В отношении нее ученые разделились на две группы. Представители первой группы считают, что самой важной составляющей публичной дипломатии является «слушание», в то время как вторая группа делает акцент на управлении информацией. Однако выбор сделан обеими группами исходя из периода коммуникации, предшествующего появлению таких понятий, как социальные медиа, глубокая медиатизация, фейковые новости и эпоха постправды. Таким образом, данная статья имеет целью рассмотреть иерархическую таксономию посредством анализа вопросов новой коммуникации. Вывод статьи состоит в том, что в эпоху постправды, когда 4,5 миллиарда человек пользуются онлайн-платформами и когда ежедневно отправляется миллиард сообщений, «слушание» долее не является основной составляющей публичной дипломатии. Основной формой коммуникации сегодня служит управление информацией, в то время как публичная дипломатия стала публичной глокализацией.

Ключевые слова: публичная дипломатия, фейковые новости, социальные медиа, управление информацией, постправда
DOI: 10.30547/vestnik.journ.1.2022.157175


In today’s world, it has become quite complex to promote a country, increase its image, and engage with foreign publics in order to realize its national interests. Thanks to the internet, people from all over the world are more networked than ever before and their main economic, communication, and cultural activities are globalized (Castells, 2008); they exchange messages, information and realize some of their interests. New media landscapes have been produced where information is not limited to space, time, and national borders and, in this competitive arena, many actors vie for attention (Manor, 2019). This attention is sought primarily by states, in order to benefit from economic, political, strategic, touristic, cultural and ideological aspects, often through the provision of information on foreign publics. This information promotes the country (Dolea, 2015) and enhances its positive image in the eyes of the public of another country (Jönsson, Hall, 2005; Buhmann, Ingenhoff, 2015).

The discipline that seeks to inform, influence and engage foreign publics in order to achieve this is public diplomacy (Nye, 2004; Cull, 2008). The concept, coined by Edmund Gullion in 1965, was traditionally understood as dealing with “the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies” (Cull, 2006: 1). “Public diplomacy is an instrument used by states, associations of states, and some sub-state and non-state actors to understand cultures, attitudes and behaviour; [to] build and manage relationships; influence thoughts and mobilize actions to advance their interests and values” (Gregory, 2011: 353). The objective of public diplomacy is “to influence a foreign government, by influencing its citizens” (Frederick, 1993: 229).

Traditionally, public diplomacy has aimed to promote the country and to realize its foreign policy (Malone, 1985; Tuch, 1990; Leonard, Stead, Smewing, 2002; Melissen, 2005). The practice of public diplomacy is focused on the cultivation of positive public opinion in foreign nations (Golan, Manor, Arceneaux, 2019). This is achieved through various activities, including educational and cultural exchange programs, various scholarships, cinematography, and the media along with language programmes, sports, the arts, etc. (Snow, 2020 a; Golan, 2015; Gilboa, 2008; Nye, 2004, 2008). I define public diplomacy as a communication of state and non-state actors of a country with the public of foreign countries in order to inform, engage, influence them and to realize the state interests (Saliu, 2020 a; 2020 b; 2021).

The purpose of public diplomacy and its meaning has not changed even today. What has changed, however, is the way the goal is achieved, or in other words, the activities undertaken by public diplomacy to achieve its goals in the era of online networking. Therefore, the aim of this study is to explain the changes online communication has caused in public diplomacy activities.

Scholars are divided into two major groups regarding these activities. The first group is headed by Nicholas Cull, the most cited academic in the field (Snow, 2020 b). According to Cull (2008, 2010, 2019 a), the activities of public diplomacy are: listening, advocacy, cultural diplomacy, exchange, and international broadcasting. Listening is an actor’s attempt to manage the international environment by collecting and analysing data about international publics and using that data to redirect its policy or its communications accordingly (Cull, 2019 b: 4). “Listening has now become a core activity in public diplomacy and a defining element of dialogic forms of communication” (Di Martino, 2020: 21). Other scholars also place listening as the first major dimension or activity of public diplomacy (Di Martino, 2019, Snow, 2020 b). This means recognizing the preferences of others, so first one has to listen to what others have to say, and then speak (Cull, 2008).

On the other hand, another group of scholars do not place listening as the first and foremost dimension of public diplomacy, but rather consider information management as the main dimension. The most cited researcher in this grouping is Eytan Gilboa (Alexander, 2021). According to Gilboa (2008), Leonard, Stead, Smewing (2002), Nye (2004, 2008, 2019), the main activities of public diplomacy are: (a) information management, which means as much information on foreign publics is shown through the media, preferably on a daily basis; (b) strategic communication – occasional campaigns throughout the year; and (c) cultural diplomacy involving various exchanges in order to achieve the establishment of long-term relationships with foreign audiences. Furthermore, “information management refers to [the] government’s control of information and manipulation of the mass media” (Gilboa, 2008: 63).

Both of the groups refer to the communication period before social media, deep mediatization, fake news and the post-truth era. Hence, we address the research question: how has the present-day online communication affected the public diplomacy taxonomy? To answer this question, a bibliographic analysis of studies by the most cited public diplomacy researchers (according to Google Scholar1) was made. This was supplemented by analysis of the major recent articles that have addressed online public diplomacy activities.

In the following sections of this article, the role of concepts that are directly related to public diplomacy (such as fake news, social media, and deep mediatization) are explained. It concludes by arguing the reasons why the current public diplomacy taxonomy no longer functions. Bearing in mind that these concepts are in the field of communication, firstly the issue whether public diplomacy is more a field of international relations, communication and media – rather than an interdisciplinary field of its own – is discussed.

Areas of study of Public Diplomacy

The concepts mentioned above testify to an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach to the field of public diplomacy. Public diplomacy activities have been the subject of study from several fields and perspectives. Social science scholars from political science, media and communications, public relations, marketing, and international studies have produced considerable literature since the concept was coined in 1965, contributing to the theoretical and empirical knowledge of public diplomacy (Gilboa, 2008, 2016; Snow, 2020 b). Some scholars place public diplomacy more in the field of international relations and diplomacy (Nye, 2004; Melissen, 2005), whereas others in the field of communications and public relations (Ingenhoff, Calamai, Sevin, 2021; Di Martino, 2020; Tam, Kim, 2019; Gilboa, 2008, 2000; Cowan, Arsenault, 2008; Yun, 2009). In an analysis of 2124 articles dealing with public diplomacy which were published between 1965 to 2017, it was found that those articles that place public diplomacy in the field of international relations dominate, followed immediately by the articles that deal with it from the perspective of communications. This is followed by articles that consider public diplomacy as a separate field (Sevin, Metzgar, Hayden, 2019). “Political scientists embed their research about public diplomacy in the literature of international relations, while communication scholars frame their work in the context of public relations, media effects, and persuasive communication” (Sevin, Metzgar, Hayden, 2019: 4833). A recent study (Ki, Pasadeos, Ertem-Eray, 2021) which dealt with the evolution of global public relations and analysed 521 articles and 36000 citations published between 1983–2019, concluded that as public diplomacy has emerged as a new theme in the literature, there has been a significant increase in publications in this field in the last decade (2010–2019).

International relations and the field of communications have grown closer together over the last five years, because public diplomacy has become increasingly digital and cannot be explained without the social networks used by people from all over the world to communicate with each other (Crilley, Manor, Bjola, 2020; Manor, 2019; Bjola, Cassidy, Manor, 2019; Golan, Manor, Arceneaux, 2019; Pacher, 2018). This shows that public diplomacy is seen more and more as a communication process (Di Martino, 2019; Jönsson, 2016). However, “experts and practitioners in public diplomacy have often ignored relevant knowledge in communication and public relations (PR), while communication and PR scholars and practitioners have often ignored the relevant literature in international relations, diplomatic studies, and strategic studies” (Gilboa, 2008: 73). Both approaches, nevertheless, provide important contributions to the field (Golan, Manor, Arceneaux, 2019).

Increase in communication actors, information overload and deep mediatization

Today’s context has changed from that of traditional public diplomacy, especially due to the possibility of online participation by a very large number of communicators. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, in January-February 2021, 93% of Americans were online, while everyone else was using the internet to communicate with relatives, buying, or asking for information2. According to the Reuters Institute survey, 69% of German people received information from social media, 79% in the UK, 83% in Spain and up to 90% in Argentina, while during the COVID-19 pandemic this percentage, has increased3.

Most citizens of a country nowadays learn more about foreign policy or foreign countries and values via the media news rather than via public diplomacy activities (Golan, Manor, Arceneaux 2019). In the age of digital media and social networks, we have billions of text messages, photos, videos, etc. every day which are distributed by non-state actors, politicians, terrorist groups, various organizations, members of the diaspora, and address the entire globe simultaneously. “They tell stories about themselves, each other, and the rest of the world through the images they share on social media” (Crilley, Manor, Bjola, 2020: 1).

But today we also have a new global communication space via the Internet, where people exchange information and emotions many more times than they could physically do so before. “Now, states, non-state actors, international institutions, social movements, and the 4.5 billion people who today have access to the internet are all visual narrators of global politics (Crilley, Manor, Bjola, 2020). About 50 billion technological devices are connected to the Internet (Floridi, 2014: 11); on YouTube users upload more than 100 new hours of video every minute of each day; commercial television generates about 48 million hours of worldwide video messages each year; over 300 billion emails are sent and received every day; Twitter users generate more than 500 million tweets a day; and over 100 million photos are uploaded to Facebook per day (Potter, 2016: 35–36). “Until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century and by the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years” (Chamberlain, 2020: 1–3). However, in the 21st century, doubling is happening much faster. Some have estimated that human knowledge doubles every five years (Innerarity, 2013), and others state that it now takes only 2 years for the total amount of information to double (Silver, 2012).

In addition to the increase in information and of communication actors, the ways of communication have also changed. Life is almost completely mediatized. Mediatization should be distinguished from mediation, as the latter means the media, which mediates in the transmission of the message from the giver to the receiver. In other words, we say that politics is mediated because the “media mediate between the citizenry, on one hand, and the institutions involved in government, electoral processes, or, more generally, opinion formation, on the other” (Strömbäck, 2008: 230).

In the first twenty years of the 21st century, mediatization has become a new anchoring concept in the media (Hepp, Breiter, Hasebrink, 2018), and has emerged “as an important concept and theoretical framework for considering the interplay between media, culture and society” (Hepp, Hjarvard, 2015: 2). This is because today almost every sector has been mediatized, such as: medicine, science, music, identity, health, war, performance, intimate relations, consumption, memory, death, etc. (Deacon, Stanyer, 2014). Mediatization, generally speaking, “is a concept used to analyze critically the interrelation between changes in media and communications on the one hand, and changes in culture and society on the other” (Couldry, Hepp, 2013: 197). When using digital and social media, the individual produces data and algorithms. If you stop and look at a post on Facebook, you will subsequently see a lot of similar posts, as you have produced data that has been fished for advertising purposes. So, digitalization has produced a new media, that of identifying media consumer preferences. This stage is deep mediatization, i.e. an advanced stage of mediatization (Hepp, 2020). In other words, this is an advanced stage of the process in which all elements of our social world are intricately related to digital media and their underlying infrastructures (Couldry, Hepp, 2017: 7, 34).

Information trust: Post-truth and fake news

In this deep mediatization situation, which involves billions of communicative actors in digital media, lies have also become easier to circulate. 2016 was the year in which the ‘post-truth’ era began (d’Ancona, 2017), while Oxford Dictionaries announced it as the ‘word of the year’. Post-truth is defined as “relating to circumstances in which people respond more to feelings and beliefs than to facts. In this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and to reach any conclusion you like”4. This was primarily related to the American presidential campaign and especially to President Trump’s election team, to the large presence of fake news and post-truth politics in our time (Peters, 2018 a), as well as to Brexit. Demagogic populists, on the one hand, and elite experts, on the other, believe that the reality is different to what the majority of the population believes (Fuller, 2018).

But post-truth populist rhetoric affects the elite, frustrates it, and damages democracy (Waisbord, 2018). Experts and the elite are increasingly reluctant to engage actively and publicly to oppose demagogic populists in such an indignant game. This is all the more so today because of intense online communication. In online communication, populist demagogues receive more support, because they seem to be the ‘majority’ unlike the elite experts, or as Eco emphasizes, “social media gives legions of idiots the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner”5. Although post-truth is not a new phenomenon in society and should be understood, in public life, as a lie (Peters, 2018 b), nevertheless, quantitatively it is more present now than ever before in the history of humankind.

With post-truth it is often implied that it is about post-facts; the lie can be modified, or immediately replaced with another half-fact (Peters, 2018 a). These half-truths or alternative facts in the online world have to do with fake news, which started with the 2016 US presidential election and untrue stories circulating on social media (Hunt, Gentzkow, 2017). A man had been tricked by social media and fired shots into the air at the Democratic election headquarters claiming he was detecting and preventing a child sex network set up by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (Barclay, 2018). This was considered one of the most significant fake news items within the large quantity that circulated in that election year.

While the phrase ‘fake news’ rose to prominence in 2016, it is really just the latest name for the ancient art of lying (Barclay, 2018). “Fake news is intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers” (Hunt, Gentzkow, 2017: 213). Two main motivations underlie the production of fake news: financial and ideological (Tandoc, Lim, Ling, 2017). Furthermore, fake news is fabricated news (Grinberg et al., 2019), used by politicians around the world to discredit news organizations that publish negative reports about them (Tandoc, Jenkins, Craft, 2019), or to discredit information they do not agree with and also to delegitimize political opponents (Farkas, Schou, 2018).

However, fake news is not something new. Misinformation has been circulating through the media since the first days of mass and political communication (Tsfati et al., 2020). But today the circumstances are new. The Internet, and especially social media networks, have caused fake news to capture the attention of researchers due to the increased potential for wide dissemination. What is different now is the difficulty of holding on to rational, fact-based claims, at a time when any assertion of truth and reality can be made public, can reach a wide audience, and can receive significant attention on the Internet (Waisbord, 2018).

The new way of communication in Public Diplomacy: social media

In this huge online circulation, in this infosphere and hyperhistory (Floridi, 2014), narratives and story-telling are at the heart of a nation’s identity and image (Lepore, 2019), especially those on social media. Social media is considered to be any website that allows social interaction (O’Keeffe, Clarke-Pearson, 2011).

Analysing the relationship between rhetoric and public diplomacy, Miles (2021) states that although rhetoric is intended to reduce the inconsistency of the situation, today, when the world is highly networked and countries use public diplomacy to communicate national goals as the central motive, as well as their cultural character and identity, it often increases chaos and anxiety. This reduces alternatives and silences other voices (Miles, 2021). This is the opposite of how practitioners and theorists describe public diplomacy – as a tendency to increase understanding with foreign audiences, through careful, rational action and even broad positive principles (Miles, 2021: 145). “At a minimum, the once-authoritative voice of the government is joined by a diversity of voices, official and individual, with their own perspectives and interpretations” (Pike, 2021: 21). For this reason, we have an increasing concentration of studies on online communication with foreign audiences.

Making a comparative analysis between public diplomacy strategies on EU, US and Japanese social networks in China, Bjola and Jiang (2015) emphasize that social networks represent a powerful symbol of public diplomacy because they enable an effective tool for disseminating information: the message reaches deep into the target audience and enables a bilateral conversation between diplomats and the foreign public. Another study analysed over 1.8 billion Facebook posts in English and 51 million Chinese posts on Weibo to find out how nations express themselves in social media conversations. Barnett et al. (2017) find that social media represents a transnational public electronic sphere, in which public discussions reveal the characteristics of relationships as perceived by foreign publics. Ingenhoff, Calamai and Sevin (2021) have recently analysed over 12 000 tweets in Switzerland, Austria and The Netherlands, seeking to identify the importance of online commentators. They found that for all three countries, users with individual accounts have been more active and engaged in discussions about the country, and this type of communication with different audiences can be taken as the main contributor in shaping a country’s image.

In the digital age, the nature of communication between countries and targeted foreign audiences has begun to change (Snow, 2020 c; Bjola, Cassidy, Manor, 2019). In addition to various programmes, especially student programmes as well as communication through international media that were mainly managed by governments, the widespread use of the Internet and social media has facilitated and at the same time complicated the communication of state actors with the foreign publics (Ingenhoff, Calamai, Sevin, 2021). Non-state actors and individuals communicate directly and publicly online with international authorities, thus creating public diplomacy content (Ingenhoff, Calamai, Sevin, 2021). The diplomat does the same in the host country by distributing messages to the public of that country, but with social media he/she also has the opportunity to establish a lasting dialogue with them (Bjola, Jiang, 2015).

Countries aim to achieve influence even with selfie diplomacy, which means the efforts of governments to create a national character on social networks to influence foreign audiences through the use of technologies (Manor, 2019). Using digital media, especially Twitter, Trump expanded his personal style and promoted a ‘populist style into presidential public diplomacy’ (Surowiec, Miles, 2021). Russia, on the other hand, during the COVID-19 pandemic has mainly focused on the use of social media, disseminating alternative news, and minimizing traditional public diplomacy approaches in favour of strategic communication and political marketing (Tsvetkova, Rushchin, 2021).

Rowinski (2021), on the other hand, sees the populism of European nationalist politicians as disturbing in the post-truth age, seeking the sanctification of their nation and blaming only others. This also does not fit the listening dimension of public diplomacy. Cosentino (2020) analysing social media and post-truth, emphasizes that post-truth is no longer a matter for a certain country, but it is already a global issue. Referring to a critical speech by the comedian Sacha Baron Cohen regarding Facebook, Twitter and Google, he points out that the social media platforms today are often managed by demagogues and fanatics who speak with hatred for minorities and others: “democracy, which depends on shared truths, is in retreat; autocracy, which depends on shared lies, is on the march” (Cosentino, 2020: 2). This means that the state actors of a country must fight with disinformation and propaganda if they want to effectively practice online public diplomacy, because digital disinformation campaigns target the same public which foreign ministries and embassies seek to interact with in cyberspace (Manor & Bjola, 2021). In other words, online communication has quantitatively multiplied the message that is directed at the foreign publics and has also changed it qualitatively.

Discussion: The first Public Diplomacy dimension: listening or information management

In the light of the above, we return to the main research question on the impact of online communication in the public diplomacy taxonomic hierarchy – is the main focus listening or (speaking) information management? Is the first dimension of public diplomacy more functional, according to those who think that one should first listen to what others have to say even though others constantly speak without listening first?

Cull says “the best public diplomacy begins with listening: systematically collecting and analysing the opinion of foreign public” (Cull, 2010: 12). Listening before you speak is good advice. When you speak after listening, after knowing the other person’s preferences, you will be much more effective in the message given. If all state and non-state actors would expect to listen first to what the other has to say and then speak, there would be no communication, there would be a great deal of silence, and a country would have to orient its interests according to the preferences of others.

When Cull speaks about listening in the digital era, he says that “one of the great clichés of contemporary public diplomacy is to speak of the need to listen, but listening has to be more than a rhetorical strategy” (Cull, 2008: 47). This is similar to the question raised by two other public diplomacy scholars, Pamment and Bjola (2019) who pose the dilemma “Is public diplomacy what we do, and propaganda what others do”? So, Cull (2019 b) continues to insist that public diplomacy – and listening as its first dimension – should be kept away from propaganda.

Another issue is that not only the state actors of a country speak to foreign audiences, but also non-state actors. The individual communicates in forums, blogs, and comments through media or social networks independently and conveys messages to foreign audiences. He cannot be advised to listen first. The involvement of non-state actors, associations, and even the involvement of online individuals to a large extent in international communications makes us talk about the democratization of public diplomacy nowadays (Melissen, 2011; Saliu, 2020 a). Indeed, in everyday practice, state and non-state actors talk about other countries on the basis of personal experiences they have, experiences gained from personal connections, and mediated messages (Fjällhed, 2021).

According to what has been stated thus far, in practice, information management emerges everywhere as the first dimension of the measures taken by public diplomacy, especially in the era of digital public diplomacy.

Even this dimension – supported by Gilboa (2008) – has undergone changes in the period of the democratization of online information and its dissemination. Nowadays, information is no longer transmitted as it once was, top-down, by the government to the public in the form of cascades as Deutsch (1968) once stated. Traditional media such as print, radio and TV have lost their monopoly; nowadays every individual uses a smartphone which is regarded as a media in its own right, and that is connected to the internet and is able to communicate with external audiences without any filter. This is viewed as a tough competition for individuals regarding the information management by the state to monitor messages directed to foreign publics.

Public diplomacy does not only consider these two dimensions, but also other activities such as: educational, cultural exchanges, student scholarships, cinematography, foreign language programs, etc. in which a limited number of communications takes place. They communicate and exchange information related to these activities, and it sometimes occurs several times during the year. On the other hand, within the online public communication of various countries, many more communication actors participate, and it happens constantly.

These communications, regardless of the size of the country, involve millions of interactive actors. The lack of quantitative data regarding these communicative actors presents the main limitations of this paper, which seeks to argue that online communications are many times more massive than the traditional way of communicating public diplomacy through exchange programmes. However, it is widely accepted today that online communication enables the individual to convey a message from his/her home to the foreign publics. This frequency is many times higher than the state-level exchange programs.


Online communication on social media nowadays, in the era of post-truth where billions of individuals participate simultaneously, has transformed the traditional way and hierarchy of public diplomacy activities. The taxonomy that places listening as the first hierarchical dimension of public diplomacy activities is no longer stable, whereas information management, although a stable dimension, cannot be considered management in the traditional sense; today, this concept has become simply communication itself. So, we have a global online communication which is self-managed by individuals. Online, the role of state actors in this management is to be in competition with numerous non-state actors. In this type of communication, public diplomacy has become a global public sphere.

Viewed from the perspective of the communication actors, there are no longer any boundaries in public diplomacy, especially in a time when worldwide there are several billion individuals communicating with each other and who also exchange several billion messages via public online platforms. To communicate, one does not have to be present face-to-face in order to deliver a message to a foreign public. In global communication, the role of the government is also present online, and the state and non-state communication actors disseminate their stories continuously. With this online hyperhistory, we do not only have information of a political, economic, ideological, and cultural character, but rather the individual also distributes media products through their daily routine without any political or ideological purpose. This product evokes emotion; it could be entertaining, and it can also be appealing. There are millions of such models. We can consider this phenomenon as public glocalization6. Also, in these unique public online platforms, the role of the state in disseminating monopolized information has dramatically declined as never before, compared to the enormous increase in the presence of the individual in these communications. This can be regarded, therefore, as public demo-globalization rather than public diplomacy in the current sense.


1 According to Google Scholar citations, the most cited scholar of public diplomacy is Nicholas J. Cull who in September 2021 had 6520 citations, followed by Nancy Snow with 4558, Eytan Gilboa with 4230 citations and so on.

2 Perrin A., Atske, S. (2021) 7% of Americans don’t use the Internet. Who are they? Pew Research Center, 10 April. Available at: https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/04/02/7-of-americans-dont-use-the-internet-who-are-they/ (accessed: 01.02.2022).

3 Newman N., Fletcher R., Schulz A., Andı S., Nielsen R. K. (2020) Digital News Report 2020. Reuters Institute. Oxford: University of Oxford. Available at: https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2020-06/DNR_2020_FINAL.pdf (accessed: 01.02.2022).

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6 Reflecting or characterized by both local and global considerations.


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Поступила в редакцию 26.06.2021