on 07 Dec 2017 2:18 PM

Welcome to Jerusalem, to our Foreign Ministry headquarters and to this conference.

It's great to have so many colleagues from around the world – over 30 countries are represented here today – together with us. I'm also pleased to welcome many partners, colleagues and experts from here in Israel. It's great to have you all here at the MFA.

We are delighted to be hosting you all, and we hope that we will all have an interesting and valuable couple of days together. The team from our digital diplomacy department have put together a great program and I want to congratulate them on their work.

Friends, we are in the middle of a revolution. The Digital Revolution. A revolution faster than any other humanity has known, with deep social, cultural and political implications for all countries and all people.A revolution, therefore, that is profoundly relevant to diplomacy. A revolution which requires us to rethink how we work, how we preserve and enhance our ability to impact on the world around us.I have always been a great believer in the importance of public diplomacy in general, and today, I am convinced that digital diplomacy in particular is crucial to our work as diplomats.

Gone is the era when we could see this part of our skill set as peripheral to the core work of diplomacy. It is now an essential element in modern day diplomacy.  Today, public discourse, particularly as experienced through social media, is an integral part of the news cycle and the political process. The conversations that matter, the experiences that matter, are happening as much online as they are offline.

Moreover, we are all becoming increasingly aware of the power of algorithms in shaping and guiding those encounters.As all of us here are in the business of influencing international outcomes, we have to take that into account in our work.This algorithmic era is bringing tremendous benefits to billions of people, while it also poses significant challenges. On the positive side, we all enjoy the connectivity, the speed, the relevance to our interests and our lives, of the feeds we consume on social media. They really are truly wonderful things, which incidentally, also help us diplomats communicate and reach audiences that used to be beyond our reach.

Here in Israel, we celebrate the opportunity and the freedom that the internet provides. It lies at the foundation of much of our innovative and technological success in the last two decades. But there is a darker side to the internet, which in this algorithmic age, should be of real concern to us all:We are all now subject to sophisticated efforts to abuse the web to advance hatred, violence, discord and mistrust between people. We now share our online spaces with robots, terrorists, hate-filled preachers and manipulators who are working – usually with far more sophistication than we can usually muster – to bring down all that we hold dear. 

Whether it be the recruitment for and coordination of terrorism,  or the deliberate radicalization of impressionable publics, or the promotion of anti-Semitic lies and incitement to violence, or the attempt to undermine the public's faith in democratic institutions through disinformation and fake news and the like, or cyber-bullying and so on - all these seemingly separate concerns are actually all part of one phenomenon – the ability of hostile elements to use and abuse the algorithmic power and dynamics of today's web to advance their agendas. 

Friends,The challenges posed by online terror, hate speech, incitement, disinformation and foreign interference are global. They respect no borders. They affect us all.To borrow from Tom Fletcher's quote in your program booklets - if the way our enemies operate is changing, so must we. Here, at the Foreign Ministry, we have derived two fundamental operational conclusions from these observations: Firstly, that we have to develop our own algorithmic capacities - if we are to maintain our ability to impact on the discourse of interest to us around the world. I'm pleased that today we can share some our thinking on this with colleagues from around the world

But this isn't only about impacting on what people hear, read and know about us. I also see this new algorithmic aspect of our diplomatic toolkit as an avenue for much closer and much more innovative MFA to MFA collaboration, through which we can all enhance our ability to impact on real world outcomes in the international arena (and also at the same time, to enhance our standing and internal impact at home).Integrating digital and algorithmic thinking and action into our institutional and personal toolkit is where we are headed.

Secondly, we have to work harder - in other words, we have to better harness our existing diplomatic toolkit - to help build a more coordinated and synchronized global response to the threats and challenges of this algorithmic era.Ultimately, as has always been the case in diplomacy, we diplomats are charged with first recognizing, and then helping our countries adapt, to the changes in international affairs. We have to build our capacity to work together, to use diplomacy, to help shape these processes in ways which safeguard the peace and prosperity of our nations.

That is our purpose here.To develop new thinking, new skills and new partnerships to meet the challenges of our age.I want to thank all of our speakers for sharing their knowledge, insights and experience with us. And I want to thank all participants for coming and participating in what we hope will be lively and productive discussions that will carry us forward towards new possibilities for collaboration and positive impact.

Thank you.