Communication, as a reflection of our society, has undergone a radical transformation in recent decades. This change has been driven by the digital revolution, which has altered not only how we communicate, but also the very nature of our message and audience.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, communication was dominated by traditional media: television, radio and print media. These media offered a one-way flow of information, where the audience was mainly a passive receiver. The advent of the Internet and, later, of social media, changed the landscape. Communication became more interactive, with an audience not only consuming content, but also creating and sharing it.
This shift brought with it an initial optimism about the democratising potential of the internet. It was hoped that social networks and digital platforms would allow for broader participation and more open dialogue. However, this idealistic vision soon came up against reality. Information began to be used not only to inform, but also to influence and sometimes manipulate.
In the development arena, these changes have had a significant impact. In the early 2010s, there was palpable optimism about how the digital world and social media could facilitate participation and dialogue on global development issues. But, as in other sectors, this field has not been immune to the challenges brought about by the digital age.
A clear example of this shift was observed after events such as WikiLeaks in 2018. These events marked a turning point, bringing international actors back to more strategic and controlled communication. Communication in digital development, which was beginning to integrate open and participatory communication, started to focus more on controlling the message and managing information for a favourable public perception.
This approach has overshadowed crucial aspects of communication, such as active listening and feedback, which are essential to truly understand the needs and perspectives of the communities we work with.
In my personal experience, I have observed how the digitalisation of communication has profoundly influenced the norms, values, working methods and structures of institutions active in sustainable development. This process, well described in Ilan Manor‘s book ‘The Digitalization of Public Diplomacy’, has brought about a significant paradigm shift. During this transition, organisations have had to adapt to new working methods and styles, creating different styles and sometimes imbalances in communication.
Some actors have successfully managed digital dialogue, while others combine this approach with more traditional methods of disseminating information through the media. However, there are those who, aware of the risks of digital openness, choose to limit themselves to disseminating messages that reflect only their vision in passive consumption channels.