No doubt that after the Nuland case last week in the Ukraine and Russia’s posting of the audio on YouTube, the halls of the State Department in Washington are simmering. While in the Kremlin they are grinning. But what does this situation really say in the world of digital diplomacy? It says that Russia understands how to shape the narrative through manipulation of public perceptions; nothing new for Russians. They’ve just elevated it to the digital world.
Shaping The Narrative Online to Offline
What the Russians clearly understand is the world of perceptions. I suspect that the general public of most democratic countries rarely think of their diplomats swearing. That image isn’t one we’ve seen on TV or the Internet really. Usually it’s smiles and shaking hands. Diplomacy after all, is a full-contact sport. What Russia understood, or at least presumed, was “shock factor” in the Nuland case. The aparatchiks that coordinated and broadcast this message knew they stood a good chance of creating some shock value that would potentially impact Ukrainians views and even those of Americans at home.
The Russian Perception Strategy?
While it’s impossible to determine just what Russia’s true strategy is, it is obvious that they understand the impact of social media and shaping public perceptions. They are working to create a narrative and one might guess their goal with social media content and communications is to make America look like the bully, shifting attention away from their actions regarding not just Ukraine, but Syria and other hot spots. So far, they’re proving rather effective at that. Arguably, digital diplomacy is a “soft power” tool, but it would appear to be becoming a very useful tool in shaping perceptions and thereby attempting to form the narrative in news media and citizen’s minds. One might suspect Russia simply views social media engagement as key tool in their toolbox of tactics.
Look Forward to More
The quality of the audio posted to YouTube suggests, as news media have reported, that Russia is very sophisticated in it’s surveillance techniques. They sent a secondary message by publishing that transcript – that is that they have some very good surveillance tools and that they are prepared to exploit diplomatic communications. I think we can guess there will be more of these instances. What do you think?