Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Does Big Data Change Diplomacy?

Ronald van Loon,

Image (not from article) from

The online world is allowing faster, round-the-clock access to societal behavior across the country and around the globe. Today, people not only use their mobile devices and social networks to share what they think, but also to organize opposition movements.
Everything that people do, both online and offline, leaves a digital trace. This presents the government and diplomats with a unique opportunity to leverage on Big Data and use it to devise better foreign policies and increase their understanding of national and global issues.  However, to seize the opportunity, diplomats must learn how to navigate through the complex Big Data landscape and derive valuable insights from the unstructured data available to them.
Using Big Data to Visualize, Analyze, and Forecast Critical Issues
To better understand the usefulness of big data in public diplomacy, it is important to have a look at a couple of examples of how Big Data has influenced, and sometimes triggered, certain national and global events.
How Cambridge Analytica Helped Trump Win
Donald Trump hired Cambridge Analytica specialists in June 2016. The Big Data specialists identified that they could determine an individual’s race, sexuality, and commitment to Republican or Democratic party by a quick analysis of just 69 likes. Using this information, sent over 180 thousand personalised messages to the voters on the third day of debates between Clinton and Trump. Result? They were able to maximize the number of votes Trump received from rural residents, get 80 percent of Facebook votes, and minimize the electoral activity of African American. Put simply, they helped Trump win.
Using Big Data to Map Ukraine’s Protest Violence
Big Data analysts used three different tools to map a complete and accurate picture of the unrest in Ukraine. They collected data from Google’s BigQuery System, CartoDB, and Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) to develop a map that was based on millions of news articles from around the world on events in Ukraine. The map featured color-coded dots to show the location and intensity of conflicts.
Using Big Data in Public Diplomacy — Challenges and the Way Forward
There is no denying the fact that the use of Big Data constitutes a lucrative opportunity for everyone, including authorities and diplomats. However, there are certain challenges that the government and diplomats face when it comes to using the insights obtained from Big Data in diplomacy. These challenges can be divided into two categories:
– Technological — There are security-related restrictions on what kind of software can be run on computers used by diplomats.
– Behavioral — A report published by the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy suggests that there is a lack of interest among the officials regarding the use of Big Data in diplomacy.
In order to overcome the challenges, diplomats should focus on fostering a culture of research in order to make the optimal use of Big Data. The following measures can be taken to encourage and enable diplomats to use Big Data tools in order to obtain valuable, actionable data.
– Diplomats should be provided with a hands-on experience of using Big Data tools.
– The essential skills required to benefit from Big Data should be taught in universities.
– Competitions like ‘Data for Development’ and ‘Reinventing Public Diplomacy Through Games’ should be organized to develop a research-driven culture and to generate out of the box ideas on how to use Big Data in public diplomacy.
From planning and designing programs to forecasting important events, the insights obtained from Big Data can be used in a multitude of ways by diplomats. However, to realize the true potential of data, the officials must focus on establishing a culture of data-driven public diplomacy by investing in the latest Big Data tools, as well as in skills of diplomats.

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