France appointed Gérard Araud as their ambassador to the USA in September of this year. After his tenure began, I started to follow him on Twitter and added him to my list of European ambassadors to the US. I was immediately struck by his use of digital diplomacy and the fact that he replied to tweets; so much so, that I tweeted about it.
This past week, however, I noticed that many of his tweets concerning the US sent a mixed message. Some seemed to praise the relationship between the US and France, while others were fairly negative towards the US. This got me thinking about the purpose not only of ambassadors and traditional diplomacy, but also the use of digital diplomacy.
Here are the two tweets that seemed fairly positive towards the US:
Now for the “negative”:
The message to me is this, “The US is important for the French economy, but it has some pretty messed up domestic policies.” We use a system of measurement that very few people in the world use, our gun laws are horribly archaic and inept, and people in the US are not expected to live as long as our European friends. Before I continue, let me be clear, I agree with Ambassador Araud’s attitude regarding our policies. We need stricter gun control laws and better healthcare and other social policies. I have no problem at all with the Ambassador’s positions. My concern is whether or not this is the best way to go about stating these opinions on Twitter.
Let’s start with the purpose of an ambassador- the highest representative of one government to another with the goal of representing the home country’s interests and policies while perhaps trying to maintain and strengthen relations between the two countries. Add to that the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ thoughts on digital soft diplomacy, “Our soft diplomacy is aimed notably at promoting France’s image and thus defending our economic, linguistic and cultural interests.” In my opinion, there seems to be a disconnect between the Ambassador’s tweets, and the purpose of an ambassador in general and the mission of the French MFA.
Perhaps a more effective use of Twitter would have been to promote France’s gun control laws and other social policies. If you’re going to criticize somebody, at least make it constructive. Tell us why France’s policies are examples of good governance. Explain to us how our two governments can work together to improve citizens’ lives on both sides of the Atlantic. Make the case for the US to adopt the metric system instead of just, “Everybody else uses it.” Tell us the secret of France’s success in having a longer life expectancy. Is it due to the French healthcare system, social welfare policies, the diet? This is a great opportunity for the Ambassador to tweet to Americans about French culture (I should also add that the embassy already does a great job of this with their website, French Culture and Education in the US).
Again, I agree with the Ambassador’s sentiments that we Americans can learn from the French, and from Europeans in general, when it comes to social policies. I just wonder if perhaps he wants to rethink his use of digital diplomacy so as to not infuriate easily offended Americans (see for example Americans’ responses to Newcastle’s #IfWeWon campaign).
Thanks for reading.