The latest experiment at Canada's foreign affairs ministry trades the dry language of diplomacy for the chatty tone of the social Web in a pair of "listicles" written on BuzzFeed.
On Monday a list appeared on the popular viral news site under the banner "11 Myths Putin Is Spreading About The Crisis In Ukraine," authored by DFATD Canada – the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. The "Brand publisher" account has one prior post from late November, headlined "12 Ways Iran Is At War Over The Internet."
The move into BuzzFeed territory – known for cat videos, assorted diversions and some hard news – is part of recent efforts to broaden the reach of government messaging on foreign matters and to push a culture shift in the public conversation on international affairs.
The most recent post, which the Ministry confirmed it created, discards much of diplomacy's typical decorum. It describes "a faltering speech" by Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he "rambled through his conspiracy theories" about Ukraine. It even addresses the Russian leader directly: "In case you actually believe your own story, Mr. Putin, your reality check is here."
Its tone is sometimes mocking. "Myth" number five, titled "Putin Says: Russia is entitled to a 'sphere of influence' around its own borders," features an image of a tweet sent in August by the Canadian NATO delegation that shows a map of the region around Ukraine sarcastically labelled "Russia" and "Not Russia."
A disclaimer on the site notes that "This post was created by a user and has not been vetted or endorsed by BuzzFeed's editorial staff. It is also not paid advertising."
As of 6 p.m. on Tuesday, DFATD's Ukraine story had been viewed 5,824 times on BuzzFeed.
The post was submitted through BuzzFeed Community, which allows users to create accounts and submit content to community editors. Brands and organizations like DFATD Canada can open accounts, but cannot pay to promote their posts.
A BuzzFeed spokesperson, Alice Suh, confirmed that "this was not paid advertising and not branded content," and that BuzzFeed Community "is open for anyone to post."
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has made a point of visiting digital giants like Twitter, Google and Instagram, and given speeches about the urgency of embracing digital diplomacy. His department has some 410 Twitter accounts, more than half of them created since the beginning of this year, including the new @Canada handle.
In a speech last March, Mr. Baird said "Diplomacy is increasingly about public advocacy. You can have the best product in the world. But if people don't know about it, if it's not marketed, then what's the point?"
There is still a role for "The closed world of démarches and summits," he said. "But in the age of viral videos, 'twiplomacy' and mobile apps, the old levers are no longer enough."
Rick Roth, Mr. Baird's director of communications, said in an e-mail that there was no cost to post the BuzzFeed articles, aside from staff time spent writing them. He also said the Ministry "has expanded its digital footprint enormously over the last year, and we continue to look for ways to develop it further."
"Buzzfeed is just another platform we can use to communicate with Canadians on foreign policy issues in a compelling format, with succinct messages," he said. He also stressed the new digital initiatives "shouldn't minimize the seriousness of some of the issues we discuss" or replace traditional diplomacy.
The United Kingdom's Foreign Office also has an account with BuzzFeed and has posted three articles in nine months, most recently "9 Surprising Ways To Break The Law Abroad." Spoiler alert: It's illegal to drive a dirty car in Russia and Belarus.