Who is @DFATDCanada Following?
Earlier this year, the federal government controversially amalgamated the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) to create the new Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).
Significant concerns have been raised about the new department's ability to balance development targets with diplomatic and economic goals. The opinion pieces and blog posts on the subject of the merger, whether they are supportive or skeptical, have discussed its impact on everything from the federal budget to poverty alleviation. So where does digital diplomacy fit into this dialogue?
In October 2012, OpenCanada published an infographic that showed who DFAIT was following on Twitter. The accounts followed by any organization form a carefully curated list representing both who they are interested in hearing from and the type of dialogue they want to engage in. For the now-defunct DFAIT account, however, that dialogue was more of an echo chamber – the majority of accounts followed were other Canadian government branches and the number of non-Canadian accounts followed was surprisingly low.
Now that the newly minted @DFATDCanada account is live, those numbers have changed significantly. The total number of accounts followed by DFATD has increased significantly and there is now a near equal division of domestic and foreign accounts. The development side of the department is more visible, with several prominent international development organizations included in the list of new accounts followed.
The increase in volume and diversity of accounts followed is just one step towards better engagement with digital diplomacy. Perhaps Minister Baird’s pledges about Canada’s commitment to digital diplomacy are finally coming to fruition. However, the new DFATD account still has the feel of an impersonal and strictly managed corporate account. The vast majority of DFATD’s tweets are used to broadcast official information or to promote other Canadian government accounts; interactions with followers or foreign governments are a rarity. DFATD’s Twitter page reads like a Government of Canada press release, and as a result, Canada continues to stand on the sidelines of the digital diplomacy revolution.
While still in its infancy, the digital diplomacy revolution has been continuing apace for some time; Canada is running out of excuses for lagging behind. Our diplomats have forgone too many opportunities to participate in meaningful discussions with foreign ministers and world leaders. Our government has too often chosen to share links leading to outdated Government of Canada websites, rather than engaging on foreign policy priorities. Thus far, the effort that the government has put into digital diplomacy and strategy has been minimal.
The departmental merger and the creation of DFATD’s Twitter account present Canada with a new slate. The opportunity to create an influential social media presence for our new, amalgamated foreign ministry should not be taken lightly. By continuing to examine who DFATD follows and interacts with on Twitter, we can see where Canada’s digital diplomatic dialogue might be heading.
Text by Madeline Rowland. Madeline Rowland is the former social media intern at OpenCanada. She is pursuing her undergraduate degree in International Development Studies at the University of Guelph.