We live in an era of mind-bogglingly easy global connectivity the likes of which has never before been experienced. Thanks to information and communication technologies (ICTs) such as the internet and social media, state leaders and non-state actors are now able to connect with each other, with their citizens, and with people from other countries in a powerful and direct way. This allows for real-time communication and the opening of new dimensions in diplomacy, such as the ability to solve social problems and mediate relations with foreign states. It is easy to see how digital diplomacy as a new discipline—despite the obvious challenges it faces—has revolutionized public discourse in the 21st century. Leaders now talk directly to their people. So, what does this mean for the future of public diplomacy? While there are many definitions of digital diplomacy, at its core digital diplomacy is simply the use of social media and other new technologies as a tool to further the aims of traditional diplomacy. In this way, states and state actors can use social media platforms—such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Periscope, and Snapchat—to communicate and disseminate ideas to their constituents, foreign peoples, other state actors and non-governmental organizations, as well as further the aims of public policy and manage the spread of information and knowledge and their own “social media brand”. Nations can use digital diplomacy not only as a means by which to communicate their ideas but also as a way to help citizens through the coordination of disaster response efforts, for example, such as Belgium’s Twitter account @CrisiscenterBE, which is used specifically to communicate with citizens on potential terrorist attacks and natural disasters as they unfold in real time. Similarly, digital diplomacy can be used as a means to overcome traditional limits of diplomacy and bring about social change, such as the Virtual Embassy Iran, which was launched by the U.S. State Department in order to facilitate interactions between the U.S. and Iranian citizens due to a lack of traditional communication lines between the two. Ultimately, digital diplomacy is not a new form of diplomacy—it is traditional diplomacy with a new toolset. A recent Twiplomacy Study found that there are currently 178 countries—or a whopping 92 percent of all UN member states—that are represented by heads of state and foreign ministers on Twitter, with a grand total of 356 million followers between these accounts. In fact, the study found that out of all social media platforms, heads of state and government had the biggest presence on Twitter with a total of 856 official accounts, with Facebook and Instagram as the second and third most popular platforms, respectively. Unsurprisingly, U.S. President Donald Trump’s often-controversial Twitter account (@RealDonaldTrump) is the most followed world leader in 2017 with over 45 million followers, followed by Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India (@NarendraModi, 37.5 million followers) and Pope Francis (@Pontifex, 33 million followers). The number of followers a leader enjoys does not necessarily translate into effective digital diplomacy strategies. For example, while President Trump may have the most Twitter followers, he follows very few other world leaders and has little engagement with his followers. The European Union’s External Action Service (@EU_EEAS) and the Foreign Ministry of Russia (@MFA_Russia), on the other hand, are mutually connected to 128 and 127 other world leaders and government institutions, respectively, while 95 percent of tweets the government of The Netherlands (@Rijksoverheid) and the government of Nepal (@Hello_Sarkar) send out are direct replies to their followers. Indeed, these Twitter accounts and more demonstrate that engagement is crucial to effective digital diplomacy. For example, tagging Twitter users in pictures, a method used by the Russian Foreign ministry and the French government, is an effective way to ensure that relevant stakeholders are notified about important issues and have the ability to increase engagement surrounding the issue, either through retweets or replies. Conversely, diplomats can also use social media to connect to non-state actors, such as Israel’s frequent use of direct message campaigns to connect to key influencers and request certain tweets to be amplified by these followers, in addition to their #IsraelRetweetedMe campaign, which asks followers to discuss Israel in a positive light in order to be retweeted by Israel’s official Twitter accounts and spotlight these specific Twitter users. Despite the opportunities digital diplomacy presents, there are also major challenges to be dealt with, key among them: contesting realities. During the beginning stages of the Crimean crisis, for example, Russian digital diplomacy accounts denied the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine—while the United States digital diplomacy accounts argued the opposite. Similarly, the simultaneous insistence by Russian Twitter accounts that Aleppo has been liberated while UK Twitter accounts argued that Aleppo remained in a state of emergency has led to confusion on both sides and a decrease in trust by followers of both accounts. This confusion, perpetuated by real-time rapid spread of misinformation and the creation of conflicting realities, demonstrates the very mechanisms that make digital diplomacy so successful also have the potential to stifle and block off authentic communication. While many challenges exist due to the novelty of digital diplomacy—former U.S. President Barack Obama was the first leader to create an official presidential Twitter account as recently as 2007—the possibilities of digital diplomacy have only just begun. In addition to social media, revolutionary advances in artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and the Internet of Things are beginning to open new avenues into even more interactive public diplomacy campaigns, as well as connect digital diplomacy to the physical realm. Indeed, crude AI systems such as chat-bots are already being implemented in an effort to assist with registration processes, visa applications and legal aid for refugees, and Internet of Things capabilities such as satellite remote sensing have been able to aid the World Health Organization and other diplomats in analyzing and implementing strategies for natural crises and disasters, such as the Ebola outbreak in 2014. About the author:  Ana C. Rold is Founder and CEO of Diplomatic Courier, a Global Affairs Media Network.  She teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050–A Forum About Our Future. To engage with her on this article follow her on Twitter @ACRold.  

But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?

Let’s start with gold.

Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.

In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.

It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.

And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.

It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.

We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.

We’ve already agreed.

Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.

Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.

In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.

Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.

This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.

But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently.  Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.

Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?

We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.

What if education was a new gold standard?

And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?

Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.

By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?

Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.

Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.

These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”  —George Washington
Ana C. Rold
Ana C. Rold is the Founder and Publisher of Diplomatic Courier. Rold teaches political science courses at Northeastern University and is the Host of The World in 2050–A Forum About Our Future. To engage with her on this article follow her on Twitter @ACRold.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.