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article imageOp-Ed: The Socially Networked Future of International Diplomacy Special

By Robert Onley     Aug 18, 2011 in Politics
Paris - Well before entering political office, tomorrow's world leaders are meeting, talking and sharing --right now-- using social networks, with serious implications for our future global order.
In a world enveloped by unsolvable crises, national leaders of the Boomer Generation continue to practice politics and diplomacy using methods little changed over the centuries.
Responding to their paralysis, a flock of twentysomething student leaders—the “Facebook Generation”—are spearheading efforts that will forever reshape the dynamics of international diplomacy and global governance. This transformation was on display at the 2011 G8 & G20 Youth Summit, held in Paris, France in early June, where I represented Canada as the Youth Minister of Defence.
Gathering in the gated courtyard of the École Suprieure de Commerce de Paris on day one of the Youth Summit, 160 graduate students and young professionals representing the entire G20 met each other before listening to an opening address delivered by Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s newly-appointed Managing Director.
Organized by the French non-profit initiative aptly named “Youth Diplomacy,” the fifth annual Youth Summit was sponsored by the Office of French President Nicholas Sarkozy as part of the United Nations International Year of Youth 2011.
While the Arab Spring will be remembered for the organizing power of social networks in bringing down dictators, the young leaders participating in the Youth Summit fundamentally understand that lasting change can only be implemented with the decision-making authority of political office. The ongoing deadlock in Egypt and Tunisia today emphasizes this prerequisite.
To this end, a diplomatic sea change is underway—one which will have deep ramifications for the future global order.
Foremost, wholly unlike the upbringings of their boomer forebears, the Facebook generation is digitally connected, instantaneously communicating, and constantly updating each other on their personal, political, and educational progress with Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.
While some boomer leaders today use social networks to spread political messages, tomorrow’s world leaders have used the networks to establish permanent online communities of the most engaged and driven student leaders from across the G20. These young minds are exchanging ideas, thinking critically and problem solving together, well before entering into positions of power.
Think about that for a moment. What if Barack Obama and Bashar al-Assad met 25 years ago and were Facebook friends ever since?
The likelihood of such a scenario may be slim, but there’s no denying that tomorrow’s leaders will know more about each other than ever before. Regular Facebook users are provided with a deluge of personal information—free of charge and without spying—about anyone they have ever added as a friend on the network.
Whether it’s the latest degree, achievement, or new employer, Facebook allows for the completely legal monitoring of friends’ developments. Indeed, intelligence briefing notes, the product of exhaustive research and once an indispensable primer for international negotiations with rival diplomats, could wind up becoming redundant relics of the pre-social-networked era of diplomacy.
Accordingly, relationships will be nurtured outside of regular diplomatic circles. Delegates in Paris warmly greeted returnees from the 2010 Youth Summit in Vancouver. Like old friends, they had kept abreast of each others’ latest news, published articles, and global travels—all through Facebook and Twitter. The social networks’ steady, communal dialogue helped create a familiarity that only deepened the genuineness of their renewed personal interactions in Paris.
Empowering all of this is the fact that Facebook is effectively hard-wired into the day-to-day existence of tomorrow’s worldleaders, most of whom grew up with the unprecedented power of instantaneous digital interaction.
The omnipresence and ease-of-use of Facebook, Blackberry Messenger, Twitter, and Skype on smartphones will also enhance international dialogue by allowing any user, located anywhere, to immediately contact anyone in their social network. Unlike international text messaging, all are completely free.
Throughout negotiations at the Summit, delegates exploited these free online tools like diplomatic back channels, imperceptibly passing silent “notes” to their friends and rivals alike. By week’s end, delegates had collaboratively drafted a 54-page “Final Communiqué” full of realistic proposals which were then presented to the French President and other actual leaders of G8 countries.
The G8 Youth Defence Committee in action.
The G8 Youth Defence Committee in action.
In contrast to the naïve idealism often espoused by many in the globalist crowd, the solutions set out in the “Final Communiqué” are grounded in an earnest desire to avert the tumultuous, dystopian future presently facing the Facebook generation.
With so many deeply troubling global problems requiring immediate action, tomorrow’s world leaders recognize and demand that Facebook’s colossal networking power not be wasted by simply remaining complacent as an outlet for sharing silly YouTube videos and gawking at friends’ party pictures.
Future generations cry out that 750 million users do far better than this with their time today.
Moving beyond merely “sharing,” Facebook users need the ability to opt-in to a “dialogue channel” where “strangers” (not friends) with similar interests all over the world can comment on articles, ideas, and proposals that have been mutually shared by many different people.
Often, incredibly insightful ideas on serious issues are forever lost on the walls of Facebook users, unable to escape the restrictive confines of a profile’s individual security settings. This black hole of ideas is an untapped resource in pursuit of the tangible, results-oriented dialogue witnessed at the Youth Summit.
Indeed, with great power comes great responsibility. Possessing the largest, most influential websites in the world, Mr. Zuckerberg and his counterparts at Twitter and Google are burdened with—and challenged to immediately begin—establishing a lasting, positive legacy using the very behemoths they now control.
Only then can the overwhelmingly inane, narcissistic nature of Facebook be overhauled into a substantive, altruistic vehicle for shaping solutions to the myriad issues plaguing the planet.
Tomorrow’s world leaders are ready to join them in this effort today. Indeed, as the Youth Summit showcases, they’ve begun this dialogue by establishing influential social networks of student leaders who are already initiating change. These young minds have been raised in an era where technological limits simply do not exist.
One spark and one Tweet started a revolution that is still sweeping the Middle East. The capacity to achieve has never been greater. Let’s get to work.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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