2019 in review: digital diplomacy on Instagram

Instagram is becoming a very important tool for world leaders and governments to communicate their priorities and to engage on a more personal level — and with few words — with their audiences.

“Instagram has become the fastest growing social media network among world leaders, governments, and foreign ministers and is the third most used social media platform after Twitter and Facebook, with 81 percent of the 193 UN member states active on the platform,” reads the latest Twiplomacy report on the use of the platform by political leaders around the world.

“What was once hidden behind closed doors is now becoming public for everyone to see. History is now being immortalized on the mobile photo and video sharing platform.”

Obviously, some are better than others in using the platform, and Instagram stories seem to be more popular than posts — given the ephemeral nature of stories, this article only includes full posts, whether they are photos, videos, or galleries.

Here are some highlights from the past 12 months…

As she takes office at the helm of Finland’s 76th government, newly named Prime Minister Sanna Marin, now the youngest government leader in the world, posts a photo of her new cabinet, led by women (December 10, 2019). Reuters Breakingviews quoted her as saying: “I present a younger generation but of course, when it comes to social media or Instagram, I think that I’m an individual, a person, a real person even though I’m a prime minister.”

Ursula von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, officially assumes office at the European Commission as President. Her first post is a video of her moving with a carry on to her new office (December 1, 2019).

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un rides a horse during snowfall in Mount Paektu in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) and reposted by Reuters on their Instagram feed (October 16, 2019).

Kristalina Georgieva seems to love selfies! Her first selfie as the new Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), she writes: “My first selfie with IMF staff during our town hall meeting. What a great institution — and a great team!” (October 3, 2019).

Christine Lagarde, the new President of the European Central Bank (ECB), passes the baton of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), where she had been Managing Director for eight years, to Kristalina Georgieva (September 25, 2019).

The family photo of the G7 Summit in Biarritz, France is an aerial view of the round table with the eight world leaders — France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Angela Merkel, CanadianPM Justin Trudeau, Britain’s Boris Johnson, Donald Tusk of the EU, Italy’s Giuseppe Conte, Japan’s Shinzo Abe, and US President Donald Trump. The tag reads: “It’s time to take action!” (August 25, 2019).

Since being named UK Special Envoy for Media Freedom in April 2019, Amal Clooney has been featured several times on the Instagram feed of the British Foreign Office, including in a few posts during the Defend Media Freedom Conference in London, co-organized by the UK and the Canadian governments (July 10, 2019).

Passing of the baton at Downing Street, official seat of the British prime minister. Teresa May’s last post at the helm of the government is a video of her last press conference: “I will continue to do all I can to serve the national interest” — she didn’t post again until late November, during the election campaign in support of the Conservative party. As Boris Johnson assumes office as new Prime Minister, Downing Street official Instagram account post a photo of him in the cabinet room (July 24, 2019).

US President Donald Trump becomes the first sitting American President to step foot into North Korea (June 30, 2019).

Greta Thunberg is highlighted on Instagram’s own feed with two posts. “She’s a 16-year-old advocate for climate change activism and founder of the School Strike for Climate movement,” Instagram describes her (June 20, 2019).

Queen Elizabeth II hosts a state dinner in honor of US President Donald Trump at Buckingham Palace in London (June 3, 2019).

Facebook co-founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg — Facebook also owns Instagram — doesn’t post much on Instagram: only 18 posts in 2019 so far. Of those 18, only one photo is with a head of state, French president Emmanuel Macron. The caption reads: “I just met with President Emmanuel Macron in Paris to discuss new rules and regulations for the internet. We both believe governments should take a more active role around important issues like balancing expression and safety, privacy and data portability, and preventing election interference — reflecting their own traditions of free speech” (May 10, 2019).

With a simple “It’s a BOY” blue image, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — aka Prince Harry and Meghan Markle — announce the birth of their firstborn child (May 6, 2019). Two days later, they posted a black and white photo with Queen Elizabeth II and Meghan’s mother to announce they had named him Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor. The couple’s Instagram account was launched only a month earlier, on April 2.

Two years after becoming the 9th Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres debuts on Instagram (May 4, 2019). He “has long highlighted the importance of young people in addressing the challenges confronting the world,” a UN news release reads. “And on 4 May, he took a page from their book and opened an Instagram account, reinforcing his role as the UN’s ‘lead influencer’.”

In the weeks following the March 15 Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern didn’t post anything. Until this post, where she writes: “I’ve struggled for words these last two weeks and so I haven’t placed any here. So for now, I will just leave this picture. It captures so much — both the grief and the love. Ko tātou tātou, and to all of our Muslim community, As-Salaam-Alaikum” (March 29, 2019).

Pope Francis completes with two gallery posts his visit to the United Arab Emirates (February 4, 2019). He is the first pontiff to set foot on the Arabian Peninsula, a trip that marks “a new page in the history of relations between religions, confirming that we are brothers and sisters, even though we are different,” as the Pope explains in a Vatican video.

All Rights Reserved for Andreas Sandre

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