Selfie Diplomacy and its Effects

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Iuliia Nozdriakova, political scientist

There are many different forms of State diplomacy: traditional, public, digital (including twiplomacy, hashtag-diplomacy, etc.). One considers digital diplomacy as the influence of the soft power on the foreign Internet audience. In the digital environment users express themselves in various ways, e.g. by publishing their own pictures – selfies. Selfie policy is a way to verity event. However, some authors believe that politicians are not interested in communication with social networks users; their selfies are a digital analog of a political self-portrait, created in order to demonstrate the appearance of their prestige towards themselves.

Opposite to the other forms of digital self-presentation, where information about the user is received from a number of signals (e.g. website design, content), selfie directly links the image to reality. So that, selfie practice becomes a method of state self-presentation. The language of selfie, which is understood by all users of social networks, allows countries to show the beneficial image of the audience around the world. Therefore, the state’s selfie is an “image”, broadcasted to a foreign audience through social networks.

“Selfie diplomacy” firstly appeared in Media in 2013. The development of this term was caused by the selfies of Barack Obama, David Cameron and Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, which were taken at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela. This incident was discussed in the newspapers where journalists wrote about the childishness of the politicians. The term also appeared in the headlines of the articles, for instance, in the British magazine («The rise of ‘selfie diplomacy’»), as well as on NBC news portal («‘Selfie’ diplomacy: Obama, Cameron pose for picture with Denmark PM»).  In 2015, journalists discussed the self-diplomacy of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has the third-largest number of subscribers (24 million) on Twitter and the second-largest number of Facebook subscribers (36 million). Modi started the hashtag #SelfiewithModi, which was used by Indians who published their selfies. Due to the fact that in 2015 he surpassed Obama five times in number of interactions in the Facebook due to the publications of Selfies, scientists began to call this kind of popularity “the effect of Modi”.

In the scientific literature, the term “selfie diplomacy” exists from 2015. An article by I. Manor and E. Segev entitled “America’s Selfie: How the US Portrays Itself on its Social Media Accounts” was published in January in the book “Digital Diplomacy Theory and Practice”. The authors describe “selfie diplomacy” as the promotion of the desired image, created by using social media and all possibilities of the SNS language.

The image in the social network begins with a profile picture. It is believed that profile picture and cover photo (on Twitter and Facebook) serve two main functions: creation of an online identity and management of their online impression through the audience. At the same time, the selfie of the state is created by a complex of photographs. Certain features of the country are broadcasted through many pictures, constructing a narrative – the state narrates about itself through visual materials; it introduces selfie to a foreign audience. A unified narrative allows the audience to perceive the holistic image of the country. In this way, if the state constructs an official selfie and its influence on foreign audiences increases, it has an effective strategy of managing selfie diplomacy.

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