Tuesday, 23 July 2024

In Governance

Twitter vs. Buhari: Lessons on Digital Diplomacy from the Standoff

The standoff between Twitter and the Nigerian President, Prof. Muhammadu Buhari, resulting in its four months temporary ban in Nigeria is a good lesson as put in a gunslinging proverb that says, "in a standoff, never pull a gun on a man's forehead, forgetting that he has a dagger on your balls".


Do not post this article on Twitter, they may ban you too!


Twitter has fell short of Digital Diplomacy when they removed a tweet by Nigerian President in June 2021. This resulted in a temporary ban in Nigeria, and reinstatement is being negotiated, with terms, five months running to end of October 2021


President Buhari’s tweet said "Many of those misbehaving today are too young to be aware of the destruction and loss of lives that occurred during the Nigerian Civil War. Those of us in the fields for 30 months, who went through the war, will treat them in the language they understand". Twitter said this was inciting a civil war. A total mis-contextualisation of the tweet, resulting in the standoff. 


Nigeria matters to Twitter, as it triggers other connected twitter markets to continue using the platform or not. Had Twitter known the power of the Nigerian President from a Digital Diplomacy perspective, they would not have been temporary banned. 


Let’s bring things into context a bit. 


According to GlobalStats, Twitter had global social media market share of 4.11% in September 2020, has 8.61% at the end of September 2021, but had risen to 21.16% in July 2021. This fall from 21.16% to 8.61% can be attributed to cases like that of the Nigerian ban. There are more cases of Twitter exercising “Big Brother” authority over diplomats all across the world, and that is increasingly affecting its user statistics. 


How Diplomats are treated on social media by digital platform owners is very important to International Trade, as it is to National Security, as their mistreatment is deemed a breach of diplomacy and very disrespectful. Twitter treated the Nigerian President, as they treat Donald Trump, their country's trigger-happy twitter celebrity and former president. He however decided to create his own platform called TRUTH. A story for another day.  


The growing use of social media platforms by government officials such as Presidents, Members of Parliament, Diplomats, and Ministers, has given reason to exercise Digital Diplomacy.


What is Digital Diplomacy? 


Digital Diplomacy has been defined as the use of the Internet and new information communication technologies to help achieve diplomatic objectives. Digital Diplomacy provides an opportunity for public officials, government ministries, and private firms to use the Internet to reach out to foreign audiences, and their own Diaspora.


It is important for government officials, business enterprises, non-government organizations (NGOs), private citizens and social activists to use new communication channels of social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Flickr or even Instagram or Vine for public relations purposes. 


Digital Diplomacy is useful for public relations between nations of interest including but not limited to trade negotiations. It can also be used by diplomats in order to build relationships with new countries through social media platforms as currently being done at #COP26, the global climate conference. 


On social media, however, a representative of a business, community, or government, must always exercise diplomacy when communicating anything, because even though they are using a personal account, they are still representing the institute or community. Social Media platform owners, especially those who “verify” users, as Twitter does, must know to whom they are imposing rules to, in case of recourse to standoffs that involve them. 


All users of the Internet are very important, and must be treated with equal respect. Digital Diplomacy must be used to speak to customers, new audiences, as much as it is between diplomats themselves, because we now live in an age of interconnectivity of diverse communities and circumstances. Not only do we have the power to reach out to people, it also comes with the power to listen, and power to navigate all conversational circumstances. 


Digital Diplomacy is a subject that must be introduced to Sales, Marketing, and Executives in companies, so that as they relate online, they be aware of the social etiquettes of social media in order to achieve their objectives - popularity and profitability of their businesses. 


Social media etiquette refers to the guidelines that companies and individuals use to preserve their reputation online, and in most cases, many ignore that they are diplomats of brands, businesses, and communities as they go about commenting and posting things on social media. Social media etiquette matters to platform and website owners as it does to users. Just because you own the website as a company, does not mean you become bullies.


Back to our Buhari Twitter Standoff.


Now that Twitter pulled down the tweet by President Buhari, and a ban was issued, Twitter convinced a negotiation to get re-instated into the Nigerian cyberspace. Embarrassing a man in front of his children just because they are in your playing field will result in the father stopping you from accessing those children. It is as simple as that, and Twitter’s PR department should have picked that up before their Tech department proceeded to create the Diplomatic standoff. 


Whilst Twitter may justify themselves as having certain rules and regulations, the reality is, there is no Twitter in Nigeria, and they are now under the spotlight. Before the standoff, the Nigerian government probably were not monitoring the revenue proceeds from Twitter Advertising, etc. But, since June 2021, this has all changed. 


According to The Verge, "Nigeria says it will lift Twitter ban if the company meets certain conditions". Now that is a clear demonstration of power over users, and a lesson to all platform owners, to exercise Digital Diplomacy. In his Independence Day speech, President Buhari mentioned a need to address key issues, including “national security and cohesion; registration, physical presence and representation; fair taxation; dispute resolution; and local content.”


All these five things matter to not only the Nigerian President, but Nigeria as a State, and the Nigerian people, and Twitter is coming to the negotiating table as the offender. There is a common consensus that you should "never negotiate from a position of weakness", and the task for Twitter is how to negotiate from this position of weakness, of their own creation. Jeff Weiss, author of the HBR Guide to Negotiating, believes that "having power typically reduces a person’s ability to understand how others think, see, and feel, so being in the less powerful position actually gives you a better vantage to accurately assess what the other party wants and how you can best deliver it". 


All this could have been avoided if Twitter had had a Negotiator’s approach in the first place, to be a brand and business that understands diplomacy as much as it understands development of platforms as their App.


Twitter used Hard Power where they could have used Soft Power, then in turn, the Nigerian President responded with actual Hard Power, and it is now being negotiated diplomatically, to ensure that the Soft Power of Nigeria is protected. 


Nigerians are a naturally a proud people, and President Buhari just demonstrated it at a global diplomatic and digital economic level, that will result in more benefits for the Nigerian people. 


Local Content is very important for any country, and thumbs up to President Buhari, for bringing Twitter to a halt and relook at their policies pertaining sovereign states that care about what their citizenry consumes.


The Nigerian government now wants Twitter to have a registered office and physical presence in Nigeria. This will allow them to be able to make them account for the revenue they get from the Nigerian market, and also the data they move within the Nigerian cyberspace. 


On October 29th, 2021, the President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the current ban on Twitter would be lifted, but only if the social media giant met certain conditions (those mentioned above).


At the end of the day, all this could have been a different story had Twitter exercised Digital Diplomacy, and every leader, business or otherwise, must master as life becomes more digital.


Source: The Verge, Gaudian Nigeria, VOA News, GlobalStats, TechCrunch

Cabanga Media Group publishes of thoughtful economic and business commentary magazines and online media, in several African markets, that include South Africa, Botswana, East Africa Community, Ethiopia, Egypt, Nigeria, and Zambia.