Foreign Policy Blogs

Tweets From Secretary Clinton

“At the State Department, we recognize that stand-alone government-to-government diplomacy is no longer enough. From Secretary Clinton down, we are embracing new media and new technologies as vital tools for what we call 21st Century Statecraft.

Judith A. McHale,  Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs

Throughout the Middle East, and around the world, people are emancipating themselves from decades of oppressive government controls. In parts of the world where information once flowed solely from government controlled sources, the internet and social media in particular, has provided a public space for citizens, activists and opposition groups to manifest and even organize into popular movements. Social media tools are providing the young men and women on main street the means to circumvent government controlled and mainstream media outlets —  a truly democratic development that continues to redefine the socio-political landscape in many parts of the world.  So, how are governments reacting?

Tweets From Secretary Clinton

Source: Google Photos

There is a growing awareness among government officials around the globe that social media is not the exclusive tool of hyper-social teenagers and the PR departments of celebrities. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez figured this out, creating his  own account last year that has quickly surpassed the 240,000 followers mark. Regarding his foray into the social media sphere, Chavez stated, “Some criticize me, others insult me. I don’t care ….It’s a form of contact with the world.”

In the wake of the Tunisian and Egypt uprisings, public officials worldwide have been yanked into a new reality — a reality that most were not prepared to confront.

The U.S. State department, is not planning on missing the proverbial train and  is harnessing tools like Facebook and Twitter to get their message across to the increasingly connected masses at home and overseas. The department is “joining conversations” in the hopes of shaping public opinion and countering uncontested negative commentary circulating in virtual public spaces. As Ms. McHale stated, “To put it bluntly: The world has changed, and if we do not change the way we interact with people, we risk being marginalized or made obsolete.”  Secretary Clinton has launched  several outreach initiatives with the goal of listening and joining the conversations in the “public spaces”.

Tweets From Secretary Clinton

Source: Google photos

One of the most ambitious programs, the ‘Digital Outreach Team’ is a ten-person group that actively engages in several languages on blogs, news sites and discussion forums. Its mission is to explain U.S. foreign policy and to counter misinformation. The team operates overtly and identifies itself online as being part of the State Department.

These outreach initiatives are clear indications that the State department is conscious of the need to “listen” to main street as well as to the folks at the top of the political food chain.  Hopefully these types of efforts will  help the department to enhance its  understanding of cultural attitudes and developing trends that could lead to more responsive policies. In coming months we should learn if Latin America’s main streets are receptive to the State Department’s tweets and friend requests.

 

Author

Oliver Barrett

Oliver Leighton-Barrett is a multi-lingual researcher and a decorated retired military officer specializing in the inter-play between fragile states and national security matters. A former U.S. Marine, and Naval aviator, Oliver is a veteran of several notable U.S. military operations, to include: Operation Restore Hope (Somalia); and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan and Philippines). His functional areas of focus include: U.S. Diplomacy; U.S. Defense; and Climate Change. His geographic areas of focus include: Latin America and the Caribbean and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

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