“Innovating Public Diplomacy for a New Digital World” by Jacob Comenetz looks at how the State Department has attempted to modernize its public diplomacy efforts by going digital. The article touches on several interesting ideas that we have already explored in class.
One part in particular that stood out was the discussion of doing away with the America.gov website. The reason given was simple. A website with static content assumed that curious people would visit the site. In reality, this is a world of information where people are constantly being bombarded with messages. Public diplomacy officers need to directly initiate conversations.
Another idea that Comenetz raised is the discrepancy between the open messages on sites like Twitter and the subtlety necessary for international relations. He quotes Clay Shirky about the problem of not being able to say the same thing to every audience. As we saw in the presentation on Global Movie Successes, the same cultural values do not resonate across the globe. The State Department could find itself in some sticky situations if public diplomacy officers are tweeting about ongoing controversial events.
Evgeny Morozov is another cautionary voice in the article. He is correct to warn that technology and social media should be exclusively thought of as forces of democracy. Social media are just as accessible to authoritarian regimes as they are to activists. Mexico is just one example of a country where social media are being used to suppress activism. Mexican citizens are being targeted by their government and drug gangs because of their online communication.
Comenetz also quotes Morozov as saying, “Clinton went wrong from the outset by violating the first rule of promoting Internet freedom: Don't talk about promoting Internet freedom.” I’m not exactly sure where he is going with this. The U.S. shouldn’t have to be shy about promoting Internet freedom. They are open about promoting values such as freedom of speech and democracy. Those values may not be agreeable with other cultures. But they are American values, and so America promotes them. Internet freedom is crucial for both freedom of speech and democracy, and therefore should fall into that category.
Social media can be anti-democratic. But so can any medium, really. Radio, television, and newspapers have all been used to promote things like racism. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use or trust them. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about how to use or govern them.