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Public Legitimation by “Going Personal”? The Ambiguous Role of International Organization Officials on Social Media

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Abstract:  International organizations increasingly use social media to target citizens with an abundance of content, which tends to stylize officials across ranks as the “personal face” of institutional processes. Such practices suggest a new degree of access to the every day of multilateralism that has traditionally taken place on camera and with the aid of diplomatic discretion. What is more, in these practices the intuitive truth of images on social media often blends with a more credible expression of emotional states—such as enthusiasm, sympathy, anger, or shame—which facilitates the legitimation of international organizations as credible agents of shared values and norms. At the same time, however, such personalization arguably suggests a problematic dependency on the credible conduct of international organization officials as it might undermine institutional claims to depersonalized “rational-legal” authority in international politics and local arenas of implementation alike. Also, it aggravates existing problems of decoupling action in global governance from its political symbolism, because international organizations use social media by and large to communicate “top-down,” despite claiming a more personal mode of communication among peers. To illustrate this argument, the article takes on content shared by leading officials of the UN, the IMF, the WHO, and the WTO on Twitter.

Keywords:  digital diplomacy; echo chambers; emotional labor; global publics; international organizations; self‐legitimation; social media

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/pag.v11i3.6767


© Matthias Ecker-Ehrhardt. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.