Did social media break new ground at G20 in Turkey?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

High-level diplomatic meetings such the G20 are not particular known for driving up public enthusiasm about global governance issues, but social media promises to change this impression, partly by cutting thorough the woodenness of official communiques and press releases, and partly by offering the public the possibility to actually take part and even shape the discussion.

In order to test these two propositions I use the Twitter hashtag search engine offered Hashtagify to find out what topics animate the conversation at the G20 summit in Antalya on Nov 17, 2015. The search engine allows me to grasp the range of topics under discussion (as identified by their hashtag designations), the popularity of these topics (as revealed by the size of the circles) and the extent by which they relate to each other (as indicated the length and thickness of the ties between nodes). For example, terrorism and security have continued to dominate the conversation at G20 on Nov 17, and normally so in light of the terrorist attacks in Paris from a few days ago, but other topics have informed and shaped the agenda as well (see Fig 1).

 

Fig 1: Main topics of discussion related to #G20Turkey (Nov 17, 2015; 13:00 GMT)

 

 

 

One could go even deeper and try to find out what sub-topics are being associated with one of the primary nodes (#G20) from the main matrix. This way, one should be able to get a detailed view of the emerging sub-frames of discussion and of the extent to which they may increase the centrality of the node. For example, Fig 2 shows that a new theme on climate change is steadily rising under the G20 hashtag, which given the proximity of the @COP21 Summit in Paris, may well continue to attract public attention. 

 

Fig 2:  #G20 Sub-frames (Nov 17, 2015; 13:00 GMT)

 

 

 

 

 

It also important to understand who is driving the digital conversation and how effectively.  Fig 3 shows that governmental officials and news media dominate the field. The official account of the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is responsible, by far, for most of the impressions on @G20Turkey, a result explained by the combination of a large number of followers (4,8 mil) and high tweeting frequency. The only other head of government/state in the top 5 influencers of #G20Turkey is the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, a rather surprising finding, but which nevertheless speaks well of Mr. Rajoy’s growing interest in digital public diplomacy. On the critical side, no NGO makes into the top 10 influencers, a finding that obviously throws some cold water on the original expectation that the public may actually shape the conversation at the summit.

 

Fig 3:  #G20Turkey top influencers (Nov 17, 2015; 13:00 GMT)

 

 

 

To conclude, social media can offer a detailed and dynamic view (e.g., in real-time) of the conversation that takes place at the summit, but that does not seem able yet to breakdown the communication wall between the public and governmental officials. I should also add the case study covers only on hashtag (#G20Turkey) at a particular moment during the summit, so it would be interesting to see whether these findings are confirmed for other dominant G20 hashtags and at different moments in time.

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Prof. Corneliu Bjola

I'm an Oxford scholar seeking to make sense of "unknown unknowns" in international diplomacy, a tech geek constantly on the lookout for the next Cool Thing, and an unrepentant Big Lebowski fan ("lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-you's..").

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