Digital Diplomacy and cyber-hacking: interview with prof. Corneliu Bjola

Digital diplomacy. A radical changing in political and institutional communication happened during last years. We have discussed these issues with Oxford Queen Elizabeth House Diplomatic Studies Associate Professor Corneliu Bjola in occasion of the presentation of his volume “Digital Diplomacy: Theory and Practice” at the Center for American Studies.


Prof. Bjola, which is the definition of the term “digital diplomacy” you gave of it in the volume you presented at the Center for American Studies ?

The definition of “digital diplomacy” is quite simple. I speak about the use of digital technologies for diplomatic purposes. I keep it simple for different reasons because, first of all, when I talk about diplomatic purposes I mean dealing with communication, crisis communication, public diplomacy and representation. Digital tools are able to support this kind of objectives. Secondly, I talk about the use, about projecting and broadcasting a message. My book also talks about the important aspects that come before projection which is social listening. There is the need to understand your audience before you start to communicate with that person and project a message. The third element is the “engagement“: it is not only that you listen to the audience or you propose a particular agenda for discussion but also that you have a conversation. For what concerns my book I do not speak about social media but about digital technologies because social media have been to the forefront. Now there are other aspects such as artificial intelligence coming up and virtual reality.


In your opinion, which are the main differences in terms of digital diplomacy between US and Europe?

I think is not that much between US and Europe but mostly about who is leading and who is catching up or following behind. At the beginning, you had US and UK in Europe in a sort of moving ahead and then France has become recently quite professional in doing this and few other countries trying to catch up. What I think it is interesting about the pioneers who are in the second level, about small and medium size countries such as Sweden, Israel, Australia because the digital communciation is perceived as a way of punching diplomatically about your weight and enlarge influence. In this way, countries protect that influence and consolidate it. For those coming from different level of digital influence, they use it as a mean to close the gap such as Spain and Italy.


Speaking about the dark side of digital diplomacy, do you think is it possible to create a transnational organization able to manage this issue? 

There have been some attempts not actually with disinformation but more on the cyber-hacking aspect “not to hack”: initiatives that date back few years ago. The idea was to create a sort of Geneva Convention in which you do not hack hospitals, schools and institutions. They are still working on them: Microsoft did take part of these efforts to create the Convention for hacking together with others. Where the point of dispute exist is how people define hack: there is a big difference for people who seek hacking, it is like sabotage. Other countries do not like espionage to be included there, so there is some work to be done there. on the disinformation aspect, in Europe there is this attempt to create digital media reports and guidelines about how the public and especially the journalists actually can anticipate and recognize the information so that they can pass it to the readers. Various countries have different freedom of legislation on information: in Germany there is one thing, in France there is a another one. For this reason, it would be difficult to get that needy-greedy aspect of defining what is disinformation from a national perspective. I do not expect in this field any progress soon but we need some more attempts to increase resilience and to reach results.


Ganna Korniychenko

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