Ex-UK diplomat: ‘Smartphone diplomacy’ boosts regional politics

Tom Fletcher, former UK ambassador to Lebanon, has amassed nearly 52,500 followers on Twitter alone

Ismaeel Naar
Ismaeel Naar - Al Arabiya News
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So prolific was Tom Fletcher’s time as the UK ambassador to Lebanon that when his tenure in Beirut came to an end, he blogged: “Four marathons, 100 blogs, 10,000 tweets, 59 calls on Prime Ministers, 600+ long dinners, and 52 graduation speeches.”

Fletcher is renowned for being one of only a few diplomats to have taken to Twitter as a means of communicating with the world, instead of relying on press releases and conferences. He has nearly 52,500 Twitter followers.

Fletcher spoke of the power of social media last week during a special Q&A session at the Al Arabiya News Global Discussions Forum with Talal al-Haj, the channel’s U.N. bureau chief.

“Technology, not only social media, is changing the... ways we engage in international diplomacy,” Fletcher said.

He placed significance on the point that none of his tweets or blog posts were cleared from the British Foreign office.

The tech-savvy diplomat said he had to turn to social media because diplomacy is ever-changing: “As nation states grow weaker, diplomacy as a trade is also getting weaker because we’re being disrupted by others who can do the job more effectively than we can.

“So there’s a case for diplomats to get better at what they’re doing if we’re to play our role. So I’m trying to make diplomacy more accessible.”

Fletcher spoke of the necessity to “get everybody online, given how fast and accessible extremist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are using social media to their advantage in spreading propaganda.

“I was in Tripoli, northern Lebanon, and the young entrepreneurs told me that every two weeks, a guy with long beard would come up and smash up their wifi connection. So our opponents see this as a battle space.”

Fletcher ended his session by telling the audience that the use of social media was a reflection of our times.

“I would’ve loved to have seen figures such as Winston Churchill on Twitter. I would’ve loved to seen JFK tweet. But they used the means of communication of their times in a very sophisticated way.”

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