The Cable

Could Someone Please Explain What Embassies Are Up To on Twitter?

Public diplomacy gone wild.


Once, diplomacy was an art laboriously conducted in person, preferably in French. Later came missives, then cables. Throughout, it was predominantly carried out by staid men wearing dignified suits seated in palatial estates.

But that time is not now. Now, diplomacy, or whatever its antithesis may be called, is conducted on Twitter. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, trolling, sophomoric humor, emoji, and whenever possible, pictures of animals.

Exhibit A, of course, comes from the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom. Recent Russian Embassy in the U.K. tweets include

To be clear, that last tweet features Pepe the Frog, symbol of the alt-right.

And during Russia’s spat with Turkey over the downing of its jet on the Turkey-Syrian border, the gloves really came off.

(The cyber bullying may have worked, because Turkey and Russia made nice a few months later.)

But don’t worry—the embassy intersperses its politically charged tweets with good morning wishes from cute woodland creatures.

Antagonism and animal pics are not the natural purview of an entity charged with managing foreign relations, one might think. And one might be right! But the Russian Embassy in the U.K. is not the only culprit.

Another repeat offender: the English language account for the Spanish Embassy in Australia, which has used a Simpsons GIF to point out that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump likely has not read Don Quixote (yes, you read that sentence correctly).

It has also used a Simpsons GIF to note that Australia still, in October 2016, had not legalized same sex marriage.

They implicitly criticized their host’s stance on Muslims.

Also, this:

Now other embassies are dipping their diplomatic toes in this bizarre waters. On Tuesday, for example, the French Embassy in the U.S. must have noted “#SignsYoureASuperhero” was trending, because it then tweeted this:

That is a literal GIF of a beret-clad French superhero tweeted out by the French Embassy in the United States of America.

Last week, the Polish Embassy in the U.S. wanted to remind us all that Martha Stewart favors pierogi, which are Polish.

There are, thankfully, still exceptions to this new rule. Israel, for example, just thanked Germany after the Brandenburg Gate was lit up in the colors of the Israeli flag to commemorate the death of four Israeli soldiers.

Photo credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

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