Twitter-based AFP Web tool opens window to digital diplomacy

Agence France-Presse launched "the e-diplomacy hub" on Thursday, an Internet-based application that measures and visualises the presence and influence of diplomatic actors on Twitter.

"The e-diplomacy hub was designed as a thinking person's toy, but it turns out to be useful to professionals too," said Marlowe Hood, editor of AFP's "Geopolitics" blog, which hosts the application (www.ediplomacy.afp.com).

During a testing phase, he explained, diplomats in Europe, the United States and the Middle East said it provided a means of grouping relevant "tweets" from the micro-blogging site, which currently has about 400 million accounts.

"The presence and power of social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to shape events emerged clearly during the first phase of the Arab Spring, especially in Tunisia and Egypt," said digital diplomacy expert Joan Tilouine, who collaborated in developing the tool.

Digital diplomacy, he added, can be defined as the use of social networks by states and civil society to further foreign policy goals and influence public opinion.

The application draws from a database of more than 4,000 Twitter accounts of heads of state and government, diplomats, experts, foreign correspondents and activists from over 150 countries.

A separate section also explores the way in which illegal armed groups -- including Somalia's Shebab, the FARC in Colombia and the Taliban in Afghanistan -- use Twitter to announce actions and promote their aims.

Algorithms designed by AFP measure levels of influence for both states and individuals, and calculate which issues are dominating the global conversation among digital diplomats.

The "curated" data is then displayed across interactive maps, tables and Twitter feeds, the developers explained.

"AFP, a global news agency, is entirely within its core role here: helping to filter out the 'noise' so that the true contour of events become more visible," said AFP's CEO Emmanuel Hoog.

"It's not necessarily up to us to interpret the data, but we are clearly within the realm of news, and the 'hub' provides a key to understanding," he told journalists at a press conference.

The application would be accessible to the general public for a period of several months, at which point a decision would be made as to whether to commercialise it for professional use or to the media, Hoog said.

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