Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher

Former British Ambassador to Lebanon

Part of UK in Lebanon

20th December 2011 Beirut, Lebanon

Social Media Changing Lives, and Lebanon

The theme of last week’s International Human Rights Day was the role that social media can play in highlighting and challenging human rights abuses. So I was excited to be invited to take part in the American University of Beirut’s conference on Social Media Changing Lives, put together by the excellent @mhijazi  and his team. Several pioneering Lebanese twitterati were also taking part, including @naeema and @beirutiyat.

It was immediately clear that this was not an ordinary event. For a start, people introduced themselves by their Twitter handles. Unusually for me, I was among the eldest present. There was an energy and excitement in the hall that I have not experienced at any conference like it. It quickly became clear that many of the most active participants were online as well as in the hall. Screens with live twitter feeds meant that they could interact with speakers and those in the room. So it was the first speech I’ve given where the number of people playing with their mobile devices was a welcome sign of engagement rather than disengagement.

I spoke about the way in which diplomacy will be transformed by social media, and the urgency of diplomats understanding Twitter if we are to do our jobs properly – information gathering, influencing, analysis, managing crises, and promotion of our cultural and commercial objectives. Full text, including ten tips for Ambassadors who – like me – are taking their first tentative steps into this new world. Short version: authenticity, consistency and purpose. We must learn the language that allows us to survive in this new terrain, in the way we need to learn Chinese or Arabic. We must become digital interventionists, and accept that diplomacy is not just for diplomats: watch this space for our #leb2020 project.

Others spoke powerfully about the way in which social media is transforming their professions – music, education, journalism, catering, business. As with any communication, there will be a battle between those who want to use it to divide; and those who want to use it to unite. But as a medium with coexistence at its core, social media will play an increasingly significant part – for good – in Lebanon’s future. Many participants in the AUB conference knew each other well, yet had never met. It struck me more clearly that, so important in Lebanon, social media can strip away the ability to make judgements on the basis of gender, ethnicity, class, or confession: the last of the first impression. Most Lebanese users of this space don’t identify themselves by their tribe, and have instead engaged with each other on the basis of ideas and their power to communicate them. In this regard, my Twitter handle (@hmatomfletcher) is the negative exception …

Social media is of course here to stay. Last night I launched in Lebanon an innovative British product, the Promethean interactive whiteboard, which will further break these barriers down, connecting individuals, businesses, and schools in breathtaking ways. Diplomats
who do not embrace this new technology, and the extraordinary new connections it allows, will be like the diplomats who were still turning up on horseback to find that the competition had been and gone by train.

5 comments on “Social Media Changing Lives, and Lebanon

  1. Thank you Ambassador Fletcher for the mention and on behalf of the whole Online Collaborative team I would like to thank you for taking the time to be part of “Social Media Changing Lives” conference. It was our pleasure having you as our key speaker and we are glad that you enjoyed the conference.

    We are looking forward for future collaborations with the Foreign Office 🙂

  2. Belated welcome to Lebanon. Good to know you are enjoying your presence in Lebanon, and knowing the Lebanese in real away from the political stereotypes. Ambassador Fletcher (& FCO) have given social media another effective dimension. This full scale interaction benefits both the host country and Britain. Keep it up.

  3. It was a pleasure for us as AUB ‘s Online Collaborative to host you as our Key Speaker for this awaited event.

    Not to forget, your enthausiasm and interesting speech that stirred the crowd in Issam fares Hall from the begining till the end !

    Thank you again for this remarkable post !

Comments are closed.

About Tom Fletcher

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011. Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford…

Tom Fletcher was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lebanese Republic in August 2011.

Tom was born in Kent, and studied at Harvey Grammar School (Folkestone) and Oxford University (Hertford College), graduating with a First class degree in Modern History. He has an MA in Modern History, and is a Senior Associate Member of St Anthony’s College for International Studies, Oxford.

He is married to Louise Fletcher and they have two sons, Charles (born 2006) and Theodor (born 2011). Tom enjoys political history, cricket (Strollers CC), and mountains, and is the co-founder of 2020 (a progressive think tank).

Tom was awarded the Companion of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 2011 New Year’s Honours, for services to the Prime Minister.