Social Media

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Malaysian Flight 370: A Case Study in How NOT to conduct Public Diplomacy

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, Malaysia’s Minister for Transport Hishamuddin Hussein, left, and director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, deliver a statement on the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner on Mar. 15, 2014. Credit: Associated Press via WSJ.com

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, Malaysia’s Minister for Transport Hishamuddin Hussein, left, and director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, deliver a statement on the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner on Mar. 15, 2014. Credit: Associated Press via WSJ.com

Malaysian Flight 370—specifically how the Malaysian government has handled the crisis to date—shows the negative side of public diplomacy, and reminds us why crisis communications matters.

From the moment the airplane disappeared from radar in the early morning hours of March 8, , the government in Kuala Lumpur faced a challenging task of communicating with its own citizens and citizens overseas. With passengers from a dozen countries on board—most of them Chinese—the public diplomacy assignment required careful, consistent, and credible information sharing.

That never happened. The result was conflicting stories, shifting narratives, and an overall picture of confusion. Now it will be difficult for the Malaysians to re-establish credibility.

The first rule of public diplomacy is to establish trust with your audience. Leaving aside the rules and procedures around an airline disaster, where victims need special handling, the basic goal of public information campaign is for government officials to disseminate information even when there is little to come by. The Malaysians needed to take hold of the situation and manage the flow of news in a 24/7 world where a cable operation like CNN might, as turned out to be the case, broadcast around the clock news about the event—dispatching reporters and cameras around the globe.

The second rule of public diplomacy is, if you don’t have an answer to a question, be candid and say, “We don’t know.” No information is better than bad information.

Lastly, be mindful of the power of the Bully Pulpit—a phrase coined by former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt to reflect the influence of the White House messaging platform. Deploying the Prime Minister of Malaysia needed to be strategic. There was no reason to put Prime Minister Najib Razak in the position of informing families that their loved ones were gone forever absent any wreckage of the plane to prove it.

To compound the error, the Malaysian government used social media incorrectly. It sent a text message to the families that read: “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived. As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minster we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.” Without a debris field, the message seemed hollow.

Now, with the help of Australia, there is a chance to get Malaysia’s public diplomacy back on course. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott just met with the Malaysian Prime Minister and one hopes they will improve the information flow about the ongoing search and investigation.

In the end, the answer is training. We need to train government officials on how to communicate before, during and after a crisis, and how to use public diplomacy effectively. In a world of citizen journalism, news, and global information, the alternative is chaos.

From One Undersecretary to Another: Congrats, Rick Stengel!

Richard Stengel, former editor of TIME magazine, started his new position as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Feb. 18, 2014. Credit: Politico.com

Richard Stengel, former editor of TIME magazine, started his new position as Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Feb. 14, 2014. Credit: Politico.com

Congratulations to Richard Stengel, the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  All of us – especially those of us who have done the job – wish you well.  We know how vital the work of PD is at this time in our nation’s history.

The Under Secretary’s introductory message to the public diplomacy community is a welcome sign of outreach and engagement. It lays out some clear foreign policy objectives and goals including the need to forge new and deeper connections with young leaders. It is especially gratifying to see that the youth focus will “put special attention on girls and under-served youth.”

The other priorities mentioned in the note include focus on entrepreneurism, educational diplomacy, environmental diplomacy, countering violent extremism, and the need for enhanced public diplomacy training and resources.

The network of public diplomacy practitioners will be ready to assist.

Social Media in Public Diplomacy: Twitter and DC Embassies Part 2

twiplomacy

The first post in this series explained how many embassies based in Washington DC are using social media and which platforms embassies most frequently use.

After looking at embassy presence across all platforms, Facebook and Twitter proved to be the two most popular – over 50 embassies in Washington DC were identified as having Twitter accounts and 60 embassies had Facebook accounts

Of the social media platforms identified in our earlier piece, Twitter makes data most easily available and with least restrictions through their API (Automated Programming Interface). As a result, we have focused on Twitter rather than Facebook for this post, although we acknowledge the total number of DC Embassies using Facebook is slightly greater than those using Twitter.

When social media and twitter specifically are discussed within the context of Public Diplomacy, one of the frequently cited metrics is the number of followers. While this is a frequently stated metric, when stated about a single Twitter account it is at very best a tactical question, rather than an indicator of a successful strategy – unless getting followers is the end goal of using a Twitter account for Public Diplomacy. One way this metric can be a little more useful is to put it in the context of others in the same field, or in this case other Embassies in DC. While this is still relatively limited in its utility, there is at least a comparative element.

 

Twitter followers embassies

Most and Least Followers- Twitter Accounts and Just Embassies

The above chart shows the number of followers for all the Twitter accounts that were found during the initial research phase.  As noted on the chart, the Twitter account for Nirupama Rao, India’s ambassador to the U.S.- @NMenonRao, has the most followers.  At the time of the making of the chart, she had around 75,000 followers.  At the time of writing this post, about six weeks later, her followers were close to 92,000.  Clearly she is doing something right on Twitter that she was able to gain that many followers in such a short amount of time.  A quick glance at her account shows that she tweets consistently, which is crucial to acquiring and maintaining followers, and that she was on Foreign Policy Magazine’s list of 100 Womerati which is a list created after there was a lack of women in Foreign Policy’s list of 100 Twitterati

The 100 Womerati list is a group of women that are deemed by Foreign Policy as “100 female tweeters around the world that everyone should follow.”  This could explain the extraordinarily high number of followers that she has, but is probably not the entire reason.  The next highest number of followers is the Indian Diplomacy Twitter account (@IndianDiplomacy) which is the dedicated Twitter account of the Public Diplomacy sector of India’s Foreign Ministry.  The fact that they have a dedicated account for public diplomacy demonstrates just how devoted they are to using social media to engage international audiences.  This account is not directed solely at the United States which may account for its high number of followers in relation to the other accounts on this chart.  On the other side of the chart, we see several embassy Twitter accounts that have few to no followers.  This is caused mainly by two problems: no one knows the account exists (i.e. it’s not linked to the embassy’s web site) or the account is not maintained (i.e. no one is sending tweets). 

Which embassies follow each other?

Moving away from a direct comparison of follower numbers, another indicator to consider is whether others in the same field think an account is worth following. This might give a comparative sense of authority around a particular issue or area of activity. In this case, while Embassies may at some level compete to represent their respective national interests, it is rarely a zero-sum proposition. As a result, there are many opportunities to collaborate and where a positive outcome for one Embassy is equally positive for another.

From this perspective, a very low level collaborative approach to public diplomacy could be to follow other Embassies on Twitter. The following graph represents the e-diplomacy network which exists between Embassies which are active on social media in Washington DC. Lines between nodes represent the follower / following relationships between Embassies in DC.   Those represented by larger nodes and with larger labels are followed by the greatest number of other embassies in DC, and the smallest nodes are followed by the fewest embassies.

Map

The data represented in this graph shows which embassies are considered important to follow by other Embassies. In simple terms, being followed by the greatest number of other Embassies could be a measure of importance. An alternative, Eigenvector centrality, provides a slightly more complex method of calculating importance within a network. This method gives greater value to connections from other important nodes than an equal number of connections from less important nodes. Using this method, the top ten influential embassies, amongst other DC based embassies, are shown below.

  1. British Embassy
  2. Embassy of Poland US
  3. Netherlands Embassy
  4. Finland Embassy DC
  5. Embassy of Israel
  6. French Embassy U.S.
  7. German Embassy
  8. Embassy of Greece
  9. Embassy of Venezuela
  10. Norway in the U.S.

For those seeking to collaborate with other embassies, or develop strategies to engage the diplomatic community in DC this may be a useful starting point.

In addition to the relationships with other embassies, the Twitter data allows us to analyze all the users who choose to follow the Embassies in DC that have Twitter accounts.

Twitter Follower Network

Twitter Follower Networks

The above picture shows the network created by individuals following different embassy accounts.  The larger the circle, the more followers the account has.  The lines connecting the nodes show the number of people that follow both the accounts on each side of the line. As seen in the graphic, the Embassy of Israel, the British Embassy, the Saudi Embassy, the UAE Embassy and the German Embassy are the top five embassies followed in this network.  This graphic gives us a tangible idea of just how everyone is connected in the social media world which often seems abstract and difficult to comprehend.

Group of followers that follow more than 10 embassies

Wordmap

Within this network of followers, there are approximately 280 Twitter accounts that follow more than 10 embassies.  Looking at this group, we can make some observations about who follows embassies.  Of these 280, 22 are embassy-affiliated accounts, 13 are diplomacy non-profits and media outlets such as Meridian International and the Diplomatic Courier, and 65 of the accounts are for hotels, passport services, and strategic communications firms that would be of service to diplomats and embassies.  There are also 10 accounts from users who work in the diplomatic community and 8 accounts of students studying international affairs and related fields.  Glancing at the profile data of this group, we can see that the majority of these accounts are based in Washington, DC and are interested in international affairs and diplomacy.  A Wordle (right) shows the most popular words in the profile data. Put in the context of a two word semantic concept wordle, some familiar phrases appear – some coffee drinkers and grad students appear alongside the diplomatic community, international affairs cultural diplomacy and foreign policy.

wordmap2

The stated location of users who follow more than ten embassies provides another perspective. Washington DC is the most common location, but as the image below shows, users following more than 10 embassies claim to be located across the world. This speaks to one of the key challenges for any embassy engaged in e-diplomacy – How to optimize their engagement when their remit is frequently focused within geographic boundaries but the uses with which they engage are spread beyond those boarders.

GlobalMap

So What Does This All Mean?

In the first post we saw which embassies were using social media. In this post we have identified those with which embassies engage, providing information which could be useful in development of e-diplomacy strategy and, if gathered over time, evaluation.

First, we asked how many users embassies engage and looked at which the most followers. Knowing the number of followers of an account, by itself, is relatively low value tactical data. However, the comparison with other accounts in a similar position or fulfilling a similar role can at least give some context to the number.

Second, we have looked at those accounts run by embassies which are followed by the accounts of other embassies. When an embassy creates its list of priorities, the individual responsible for managing the Twitter account at another embassy may not initially be considered a key individual with which to engage. However, these embassy accounts can act as reach multipliers, facilitating the flow of information to users with an interest in international affairs (and related fields). As a result, building relationships with the other embassies via social media can allow both embassies to benefit from collaboration rather than adopting a competitive stance toward other.

Third, we looked at the extent to which followers of one Embassy account also followed other the accounts run by other embassies. Most individuals followed only one embassy, emphasizing the importance of the collaborative strategy above as a way of multiplying reaching. Their state location, along with one and two word, word clouds highlights the profile of those following ten or more embassies. Embassies may consider some of these groups or individuals as users to engage more frequently online or offline, where there is, for example, a common area of interest. This is not to say all these individuals that have shown some form of affiliation or affinity with the diplomatic community would be appropriate for all Embassies nor that embassies should charge ahead without further consideration of who they are engaging. It merely highlights that these individuals have expressed a specific interest and an embassy may benefit from further engagement activity or collaboration (online or offline) with some of these social media users.

Those familiar with Twitter know that the amount of messages or links tweeted can be overwhelming depending on how many people a user follows and how often those accounts tweet.  As a result, data on followers is very interesting data that shows us how people are connected on Twitter, but still leaves some questions to be answered.

For example,

  • Do the people that follow each other actually interact or is it simply a matter of following?
  • Are followers impacted by the messages from the people they follow?
  • Are followers actually even reading anything that is tweeted from these accounts?
  • Would it have greater meaning to consider only information that is re-tweeted or contains an @mention, as these at least indicate a level of interaction (however small)?
  • How can the activity of an embassy be analyzed across multiple platforms?

A lot of the messaging is probably missed and the probability of interaction between embassies and their followers is slim as people generally do not tweet directly at the embassy, and even if they do, the chance that the embassy tweets back and starts a conversation is slim based on a quick glance of the most recent tweets from each of the embassy accounts.

This type of disruptive metric is becoming an increasingly important part of diplomacy, through both strategy and evaluation.  There is still a lot of research to be done regarding impact and strategy, but the above observations provide a basic landscape through which to understand how the platform is being used by those working in Washington DC. Further research will delve into the activities of a few specific countries across multiple platforms.

Confronting Development Challenges with Celebrity [Chef] Diplomacy

Some of José Andrés’ more than 100,000 twitter followers congratulate him on being  named an “Ambassador of the Spanish Brand.”

Some of José Andrés’ more than 100,000 twitter followers congratulate him on being named an “Ambassador of the Spanish Brand.”

by Max Entman

In the last decade, the definition of cultural diplomacy has been expanding.  This expansion has been especially noticeable in the realm of the culinary arts.  The recent launch of the “Diplomatic Culinary Partnership” by the U.S. Department of State is one of many examples of this phenomenon.  Though food has featured to some degree in traditional diplomacy for centuries, these new initiatives go beyond state dinners to harness the power of food as an instrument of cultural engagement.  Beyond creating sustained cultural engagement around food, these new efforts can also play an important role in raising the profile of policy challenges that align with the interests of a new generation of culinary diplomats.

Why this focus on food now?  One key reason is the explosion of the celebrity chef phenomenon during the past decade.  Around the world, chefs have stepped out from the behind the stove to become media moguls and full-fledged entertainment personalities.  This raises the question of how particular chefs may fit into existing thinking about the impact of so-called celebrity diplomats.  Professor Andrew Cooper has done the definitive work in this field.  In a recent article on the topic, Cooper suggests that “the feature that does more to define celebrity diplomats than anything else is their focus on access to state leaders and key ministerial and bureaucratic policymakers.”  As a result, Cooper argues that only three celebrities – Bono, George Clooney and Angelina Jolie – have achieved true celebrity diplomat status, whereas other politically active celebrities are merely activists.  However, the emergence of a variety of renowned chefs as government-affiliated advocates may challenge this assertion.

The person that best personifies this new chef-as-diplomat archetype is José Andrés.  Based in DC by way of Asturias, Spain, Andrés is widely credited with popularizing Spanish cuisine in the U.S.  In addition to a growing restaurant empire and successful TV shows in the states and in Spain, Andrés is a leading member of the State Department’s American Chef Corps and the founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit organization that seeks to combat hunger.  Andrés was also recognized recently as an “embajador de la marca de España” (honorary ambassador of the Spanish brand) by the Leading Brands of Spain Forum, a government-affiliated organization.

Caption: Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto was similarly honored for “overseas promotion of Japanese food,” by the Consul General of Japan in New York City.

Caption: Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto was similarly honored for “overseas promotion of Japanese food,” by the Consul General of Japan in New York City.

In both his adopted home and in his country of origin, government officials have taken note of Andrés’ leadership in both the culinary and development fields.  For the United States, Andrés is a valuable partner because his gastronomic renown and his personal commitment to addressing development challenges make him a strong non-traditional advocate on development policy issues including the alleviation of hunger.  In essence, his fame for haute cuisine can be leveraged to raise the profile of development issues (e.g. clean cookstoves) among audiences that may not be moved to action otherwise.  For Spain, as his brand ambassador award suggests, Chef Andrés serves a simpler nation-branding

function by elevating the worldwide prestige of Spanish cuisine.  These examples suggest that Andrés

has the very type of access which Professor Cooper says is the defining feature of celebrity diplomats, if perhaps at a lower level than Bono.  Though Andrés is the most prominent example, numerous other chefs have developed similar relationships with government leaders that open the potential of their serving as diplomatic actors.

In the piece referenced above, Andrew Cooper concludes by saying “[t]he major questions will be whether the small cluster of top-tier celebrity diplomats will expand, and whether they will supplement their fresh sense of energy with a repertoire of enhanced substantive content.”  Although he is best known for his avant-garde interpretations of Spanish cuisine, Andrés’ substantive efforts to combat global hunger and environmental degradation suggest that the expansion of celebrity diplomacy surrounding development policy issues may be starting with chefs.

Harlem Shake: Arab Spring Protest Edition

Activists against Egyptian President Mursi perform the "Harlem Shake" in front of the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo

by Kate Shriver

Gangnam StyleFirst, there was Gangam Style, the epic YouTube video by South Korean pop sensation Psy that swept the world in 2012 and currently has over one billion views, making it the most viewed YouTube video of all time. Anyone who was anyone made a spinoff or parody of their own.

Now, there is the Harlem Shake. Here’s the premise: in an approximately 30 second long video a single person dances for roughly 10-20 seconds on their own (usually in a mask or helmet of some sort) while everyone else around them carries on with their own business, essentially ignoring the lone dancer. When the music “drops,” the video cuts to everyone in the room dancing basically just any way they want, though it typically involves a lot of gyrating, hip thrusting and a variety of masks, costumes and other props. The accompanying music is by US artist Baauer—and  depending on whom you ask—the initial video was posted in early February by a group of young men in Australia, or it was posted by these guys somewhere else.

Harlem ShakeIn reality, the Harlem Shake in its first form was a dance that characterized the New York neighborhood of the same name in the 1980s.  This information aside, the modern day Harlem Shake has taken off at lightning speed with hundreds of new versions posted to YouTube every day. The craze is starting to wind down in the US and the West, though the fad has not come without a few brushes with the authorities: in the US, the FAA is investigating an incident which involves posted Harlem Shake video that appeared to show the crazy dancing taking place on a plane that was in flight. There have been reports of students being suspended for filming their own versions in school. In Australia, a group of miners were fired and reportedly banned from all mine sites after authorities discovered their Harlem Shake video, which they apparently shot while on their work site—in a mine! One of the most popular versions, with over 50 million YouTube views, was created by members of the Norwegian Army who are featured dancing around in the snow after breaking formation.

While the meme may be wearing out its popularity in the West, it is just beginning to get going in the Middle East: Cecily Hilleary of Middle East Voices (A VOA powered initiative) has compiled a list of Middle Eastern countries where the dance craze has gone viral, from Algeria to Yemen. But it is in Tunisia and Egypt—the hotbeds of the Arab Spring—where the Harlem Shake meme is taking on new meaning. The dance seems to have morphed into a form of social protest against the respective governments who have, in response, cracked down hard on some of those who created the videos.

Tunisia screen grabIn Tunisia, where there has been a split between secularists and ultra conservative Salafis since the fall of the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over 2 years ago, a group of students at a high school in Tunis filmed a version of the Harlem Shake in which some students danced in their underwear, dressed up as Salafis with fake beards, or as Gulf emirs (among other costumes). The provocative nature of the dancing caught the attention of the Salafis, who decried the video as indecent. Minister of Education Abdellatid Abid, angrily denounced the video as indecent also, and ordered an investigation of the school’s principal. Skirmishes have erupted elsewhere in Tunisia as conservative Muslims attempt to stop youth from partaking in other Harlem Shake videos—with one student in coastal Mahdia purportedly receiving 12 stitches on his head after being beaten in one such clash.

A video linked to the original Tunis high school Harlem Shake video is titled “The Harlem Shake: Attacked by Salafis Edition” which appears to show a schoolyard where students are about to do the dance, and are then attacked by Salafis. In some of the skirmishes the Salafists have reportedly shouted at the students “Our brothers in Palestine are being killed by Israelis, and you are dancing.”

Only a few days ago a mass protest/Harlem Shake dance was planned in Tunis in front of the Ministry of Education. Thousands said they would participate, but the rainy weather appeared to have dampened the turnout, with only a few dozen students taking part in the protest with shouts of “freedom, freedom.” In a Washington Post report, students stated their own reasons for participating in the dance: one said the dance represented a way to vent and take a break from the stresses of the past year, and another reported that he wanted to take advantage of the newfound freedoms thanks to the revolution after years of harassment and repression. In additional reporting on the mass protest, a student said he was there to make the minister of education understand that he cannot stop the dancing – “This policy of suppressing rebellious spirit is no longer acceptable.” The initial video and the backlash have only served to produce even more Harlem Shake videos, and the meme and its meaning continue to flourish in Tunisia.

Huffpost screen grab 1In Egypt, where there are strict public indecency laws, four pharmaceutical students were arrested after posting a video of themselves doing the dance semi-naked in a middle-class Cairo neighborhood. Students in Egypt have also posted videos of the Harlem Shake being done in front of the Pyramids (it is unclear whether the Pyramid video is the same one that resulted in the arrests).

Following the arrests of the four students, somewhere between 70 and 400 protesters showed up outside
the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo to stage a Harlem Shake dance/protest. The dance was organized to be a peaceful protest of the ruling party and President Mohammed Morsi, and a lighthearted moment in an Egypt that is still reeling from its transformation. A unique twist in the Egypt story: a member of the Muslim Brotherhood created his own Harlem Shake video in response to the protest, in which he and other people wear masks featuring the faces of opposition party members. The video has apparently since been taken down.

Satiric Revolutionary Struggle FB page

What is particularly interesting about the way the Harlem Shake is being used in Egypt, is that the protest outside the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters was organized by a newly formed group called “The Satiric Revolutionary Struggle” which has
its own Facebook page with over 1,000 likes. The Verge reports that the group was started by 17 year old Mahmoud Tabei and three of his friends so that they could work on making political statements through humorous demonstrations. Tabei said that he had seven friends who died in the Arab Spring violence in Egypt and that another of the aims of the newly formed group is to raise morale and “refresh minds.” The next event the group is working on is a marathon that will start at the headquarters of the National Democratic Party (the party of deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak), and end at the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters. The Verge writes that “it’s a path meant to symbolize Egypt’s political trajectory from Mubarak to Morsi. Its message, according to Tabei, should be clear: ‘They are the same. Nothing has changed.’”

So what does all of this mean for cultural public diplomacy? It appears that the Harlem Shake meme was an inadvertent export of Western culture (particularly U.S. culture) that hit the Middle East and transformed from something that was initially fun and lighthearted, into something more meaningful and useful to politically active youth, especially in Egypt and Tunisia.

Can the US government or an NGO or another some other PD actor harness the power and popularity of the meme in any way? Perhaps a rapid response digital media team at the State Department could message words of support for the dancers citing freedom of expression? It certainly doesn’t look good for the either the Tunisian government or the Egyptian government to crack down violently on the dancers, so that is something that the State department could monitor and then respond to if necessary.

It could also be true that this type of super fast social media movement is impossible to control or use in any way for cultural diplomacy. It seems that in the ever important short/mid/long term goals of public diplomacy, and particularly cultural diplomacy, that this sort of meme presents an “instant” goal of some sort—something that can be recognized and addressed.

huffpost screen grab 2Where a real opportunity lies is with the newly formed Satiric Revolutionary Struggle group founded by an Egyptian teenager and his friends. This is a group with robust backing on Facebook, and something that could be assisted with support from the USG directly, perhaps through a program that brings comedy troupes or political satirists from the US to Cairo to teach the group some of the “tricks of the trade.” Or an NGO or other organization could reach out to the group and show them similar skills they could use, as well as other popular media they could use in order to satirize the government. It is obviously still quite risky to criticize the government in Egypt, so the newly formed group should also receive training on how to avoid conflict, etc.

Perhaps the most important point to consider in this case is the US and its foreign policy remain largely unpopular in much of the Middle East—so any overt help given by the USG could be outright rejected, or worse: it could be seen as foreign meddling likely to result in a total shut down of whatever initiative it was trying to assist with in the first place. Thus the name of the game is “indirectness” – assistance in the form of things the group may actually want or need (e.g. a good piece of technological equipment to assist with video production or editing).

Sure, the Harlem Shake is probably not a highlight of US culture that the government would choose to export: it is not a gem like jazz or classical dance or paintings. But it is something that has a wide appeal to a huge youth population in the still evolving Middle East, and it is something the USG could potentially use to provide “helping” public diplomacy.

Kate Shriver is a graduate student in the International Affairs program at the George Washington University with a focus on the Middle East.

The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication.  The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions. 

Democracy and 21st Century Statecraft

Tallying election results with the aid of cellphones in Kenya

Tallying election results with the aid of cellphones in Kenya

By Rebecca Woodward

The recent presidential elections in Kenya served as a platform to showcase mobile technology as a medium for transparent and fair processes in a country troubled by election violence and fraud in the recent past.  There are roughly six billion mobile phones in the world, in Kenya over 75% of the population uses cell-phones, so drawing upon technology already in use as a tool for institutional accountability is a logical choice. Much has been said and written about the Obama administration’s approach to digital government, and it has mostly revolved around former Secretary of State Clinton’s plan for 21st century statecraft.  This novel approach of Government using technology as the building blocks and foundation to reach out and connect with friends and (not-so-friendly) partners, has meant rethinking many of the tenets of diplomacy up until now.

TechCamp imageThe U.S. State Department has developed several programs, which have revolutionized traditional diplomacy; among them is TechCamp, which is a program within the Civil Society 2.0 initiative.  Since 2010, there have been over 15 TechCamps held all over the world, from Santiago (Chile) to Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina), aimed at educating civil societies around the world providing them with stronger technology skills, which in turn will lead to more transparent governments and empowered citizens, ultimately strengthening democratic institutions.

Other countries have similar initiatives using technology as a key component of their diplomacy toolkit, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), for example, has a wide array of programs across the world which use basic SMS to request service from government agencies, report service interruptions or lack of service in order to keep governments accountable. In the U.S., organizations such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), among others have been active in democracy promotion for many years, and as technology has become ubiquitous in our daily lives, it has also become part of their programs.  More recently, organizations such as Code for America have begun expanding internationally to partner with local governments worldwide to provide them with the tools and insights needed to bring technology to their citizens.

The TechCamp initiative differentiates itself from other organizations in that it brings together people from varying socio-economic backgrounds around technology, whereas NDI or SIDA bring technology to specific groups with common interests (teachers, economists).  TechCamp reflects the values of 21st Century Statecraft touted by the Obama administration: openness, transparency, and engagement.  TechCamp reflects these values in its entire organization; the website provides “TechCamp in a box,” which includes all the tools needed to start a TechCamp, the planning process, as well as solutions which are documented (both in English and other languages) through TechCamp Wiki.

TechCamp Mumbai Tries Out the Harlem Shake

TechCamp Mumbai tries out the Harlem Shake

Through TechCamp, the U.S. is not only sharing cultural norms and values (including the Harlem Shake), but is also establishing valuable ties and on-going relationships with the future decision makers around the world.  Finally, the recent TechCamp in Philadelphia is an interesting addition to the TechCamp curriculum.  Having the domestic component could be interpreted as a signal to the rest of the world that the U.S. is not just exporting the program without applying it at home, but also to showcase work being done overseas by the State Department to U.S. taxpayers.

Countries using culture and diplomacy to advance democracy abroad, such as the U.S., need to take advantage of their privileged positions with regards to access to technology, communication channels and international presence.  The U.S. could focus on strengthening the programs it has started to develop over the last four years and incorporate them into its diplomatic toolkit for future democracy promotion around the world.  Programs such as TechCamp need to multiply at every level, promoting a grassroots approach to technology.  As NGO’s move forward with successful results using technology platforms to promote transparency and civil society engagement; at the state level, cases such as Kenya illustrate the many uses technology can have in promoting democracy worldwide.

Rebecca Woodward is a graduate student in the Global Communication program at the George Washington University with a focus on Communication and Information Technology.

The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication.  The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions. 

The Discussion of Internet Freedom Takes Center Stage in 2013

Anonymous

By Amelie Barratt

John Kerry’s first official tweet as the new Secretary of State will be interesting to keep in mind as we watch him navigate the Internet in his new role. Although Hillary Clinton did not tweet while holding the position, she is recognized for drastically enhancing the State Department’s commitment to outreach and public diplomacy in particular.

Kerry Tweet

The ability to reach millions through social media makes Internet freedom a top priority for the United States, seen not only as a desirable policy, but as an extension of basic human rights. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor within the U.S. Department of State defines it specifically as “an aspect of the universal rights of freedom of expression and the free flow of information.”

Today and tomorrow, the State Department is hosting Tech@State, a convention with its theme this year focusing on the use of technology to enhance and expand Internet freedom. The event, held at the George Washington University in Washington DC, will consist of panel discussions among key thinkers in the realm of Internet and how its freedom can enhance diplomacy worldwide.

Also of note is the upcoming Fifth World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum organized by the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The three-day event from May 14 to 16, which will take place in Geneva, Switzerland, will create an environment where experts and policy makers can “exchange views on the key policy issues arising from today’s fast changing information and communication technology (ICT) environment.” Some hesitation among Internet freedom activists surrounds the event as many countries requested international regulation on Internet use at the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), held in Dubai, UAE, leaving activists worried that regulatory measures could lead to government overreach.

With all these events lined up in the near future one can’t help but ask who exactly the audience is. Are policymakers truly the top tier and the only ones in need of inclusion? How could public, and more specifically, cultural diplomacy enhance these events? Cultural programs and student exchanges in the past have proven to be very effective in bridging gaps where nations are at odds, bringing publics together to work towards a common goal, in this case, Internet freedom. Perhaps this issue could use some help from public and cultural diplomacy practitioners to win the hearts and minds of those in need of convincing of the possibly great outcomes of Internet freedom.

The recently proposed Global Internet Freedom Act by Rep. Zoe Lofgren is interesting to take into account which would operate as a task force, monitoring “both the U.S. and other countries that deny market access to Internet goods and services or threaten the technical operation, security and free flow of communications on the Internet.” And although not specifically mentioned, conferences such as the WCIT would be among the types of events monitored by this proposed legislation.

Internet freedom is clearly a discussion that is recognized among many states but still remains a topic in need of much advancement. The overarching question of whether or not government should be involved in regulating the use of Internet seems to cause a visible divide between nations who perceive this freedom as a threat and those who associate it with positive growth. 2013 will be the year to watch as the discussion on Internet use continues on all levels.

Amelie Barratt is a graduate student at the George Washington University where she is working towards her degree in Global Communication with a focus on Public Diplomacy. She currently works at the U.S Department of State in the Office of Children’s Issues.

The above post is from Take Five’s new Student Perspective series. Graduate students studying Cultural Diplomacy as Communication at the George Washington University are encouraged to think about themes such as youth, gender, health, climate, free press, and democracy, and write on how these themes relate to cultural diplomacy and to communication.  The posts involve thoughtful commentary on the writer’s chosen theme, linking to class readings and discussions. 

The use of Social Media in Public Diplomacy: Scanning e-diplomacy by Embassies in Washington DC

DigitalDiplomacy

This post was co-written by Dr. Ali Fisher, Associate Director, Intermedia. Ali produces analysis of social movements which enhances organisational strategy, strategic communication and evaluation through network analysis and big data.  Current research includes the use of digital media during elections, and social media as an information sharing tool during moments of tension, in addition to projects focused on e-diplomacy strategy and methods to disrupt the use of the internet by violent extremists. Ali’s book Collaborative Public Diplomacy; How transnational networks influence American Studies in Europe was published earlier this year.

Social media is one of the fastest growing tools of modern public diplomacy. The advantage of social media provides the opportunity to reach citizens of other countries in near real-time.  Social media platforms also provide spaces for interaction, increased engagement, and thus furthering the goals of public diplomacy.  This research has been conducted by Jeanette Gaida as part of a capstone project for the Masters in Global Communication at George Washington University, working with Ali Fisher at InterMedia.

The potential ease with which social media can be accessed and the low cost in comparison to other methods make it an attractive tool for many embassies, as well as other government offices, that are facing budget cuts and demands to increase engagement.  Numerous platforms allow for the use of more dynamic content, such as videos, photos, and links, than traditional methods of giving lectures or passing out pamphlets. In addition, social media are key channels in reaching youth populations, a major goal of current public diplomacy efforts.

However, public diplomacy is not only about reaching a youth audience. It is equally important to listen to and understanding young publics, their thoughts, aspirations, information seeking and sharing behaviors along with the actions they take as a result. With this insight, there is greater potential to engage and collaborate with key communities rather than broadcast to a target audience.

Which platforms are used to conduct e-diplomacy in Washington DC?

With over 170 diplomatic missions in the United States, American citizens and social media users around the world have a vast range of channels with which to engage. Adding to the range of channels, many embassies also have multiple accounts on the same platform, often an account representing the Ambassador and an account for the embassy.

To analyze the extent to which Embassies in DC are conducting e-diplomacy, accounts were identified through the websites of the respective embassies. An embassy was recorded as conducting e-diplomacy if the embassy website had easily identifiable links to social media accounts or if a brief, basic, search of social media platforms uncovered an account.  

Image1

Which platforms are embassies in DC most frequently using to conduct e-diplomacy?

Image2Twitter and Facebook are the most popular platforms.

Logically, some embassies will use more than one platform to conduct e-diplomacy. The research found that every embassy that uses more than one platform, use at least one of Facebook or Twitter as part of their e-diplomacy strategy.

Platform Usage Among Embassies

  Twitter More Than 1 Twitter Facebook Both Neither Facebook and Not Twitter Twitter and Not Facebook
Embassies using 2 platforms 88% 14% 100% 88% 0% 13% 0%
Embassies using 3 or more platforms 100% 19% 86% 86% 0% 0% 14%

Total number of embassies using 2 platforms= 24

Total number of embassies using 3 or more platforms= 21

This overview of the data raises some important questions for further analysis:

  • Which embassies are reaching the most users?
  • Which Ambassadors or representatives are reaching the most users?
  • Are embassies using the persona of an ‘Ambassador’ more frequently than ‘Embassy’ accounts?
    • Do the same social media users engage with both an Ambassador and Embassy from the same country?
    • Are individual or institutional accounts reaching more users?
    • Are embassies engaging with the same people, or does each embassy engage a different group of social media users.
      • If social media users are engaging with more than one embassy, what can we tell about these users?

An evidence based approach to e-diplomacy strategy:

To analyze the strategic implications of this data to inform the conduct of e-diplomacy, the capstone project will focus on five embassies to study in depth: the United Kingdom, Peru, India, Italy, and Sri Lanka.  These accounts were chosen as they represent countries from a range of continents and will give a more detailed picture of social media usage. Further parts of the research will be made available at a later date.

About the Capstone Project

The Global Communication program is joint venture between the Elliott School of International Affairs and the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.  In this program, I have chosen to concentrate in Public Diplomacy.  As part of the program, students complete a capstone project in which they partner with local firms.  This project partners with InterMedia and looks at the uses of e-diplomacy by foreign embassies in the United States.  Embassies mainly market to the American public, but some embassies reach out to citizens of their country living in the United States or to the public in their home country.

How Does Cultural Diplomacy Communicate? Let Me Count the Ways

U.S. senior diplomat Robert Jackson and Casablanca high school research team at Rabat Environment Eair, 2010

Opportunities to Engage: U.S. senior diplomat Robert Jackson with Casablanca high school research team members (Morocco’s Earth Day Network Fair, 2010)

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine, who delivered the annual Walter Roberts Lecture at George Washington University last Thursday, comes from a serious press and media background.  She is the recipient of 10 News Emmy Awards and other awards in journalism for broadcast programs on domestic and international issues.  She has also worked as strategic communications adviser to Internews and the International Women’s Media Foundation, among a number of other international organizations.

TS pink suitSo it was all the more striking how prominently cultural diplomacy featured in her comments last Thursday, just as it does in many of her other communications — including the U.S. public diplomacy highlights she publishes every few weeks.

This is a reminder that the Under Secretary recognizes and embraces the fact that cultural programming IS communication.  It is an essential diplomatic tool that enables the U.S. to persuade influential people to listen to us with an open mind; allows us to share knowledge and skills with potential international partners and allies; and helps us attract positive attention via mass media and digital media.

As Harvard scholar Joeph Nye has noted, the scarcest information resource in the 21st Century is likely to be the audience’s attention span.  Here in the U.S., despite the plethora of contemporary media distractions, most citizens still pay some attention to what our own government says, because we know it might affect us directly, and also because we conceive of every citizen having a watchdog role.   Certainly U.S. journalists see scrutiny of government as an obligation.

cross cultural iceberg

THE ICEBERG MODEL This graphic shows why direct messaging – via print or audio-visual media – can so easily fail to reach its target.

But it would be a mistake to think that official U.S. statements and policy explanations get even the modest automatic hearing abroad that they do at home.   People are certainly interested in what the U.S. is up to, but they have a host of non-U.S. sources for that information that are more familiar to them, more trusted, and frequently more accommodating to their preconceptions.

Overseas, it takes creativity and insight to increase the chances that people will listen to U.S. officials with an open mind, and be prepared to respond accordingly.

This is why public diplomacy practitioners know that cultural programming is increasingly vital to the achievement of foreign policy goals.  Some cultural programs serve as the proverbial “picture worth a thousand words,” projecting the essence of American policies, principles, and values via local mass media and fast-growing new digital media.  Some cultural programming works as a powerful teaching tool to help influential people abroad understand (if not necessarily accept) both U.S. foreign affairs priorities and fundamental American principles.

More fundamentally, cultural programming fosters relationships and understanding between foreign officials and U.S. diplomats who will be called on, sooner or later, to work on contentious issues across the table from one other.  It helps sustain generalized affinities even as individuals come and go in the diplomatic service.  And it helps connect the real global communicators of the 21st century:  journalists, activists, scholars, researchers, teachers, writers, artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs, as well as young people just joining the conversation.

The following recent U.S. public diplomacy highlights show the variety of ways in which cultural programming communicates.  These highlights, published in January by the Office of the Under Secretary, are here sorted into three categories:  Talking, Teaching, and Spreading the Word.

1)  Talking – recognizing the people who are (or are likely to become) influential, and bringing them together across borders for focused and purposeful exchange of ideas.

  • Alumnus Hassen Ould Ahmed was recently appointed Deputy Director of Mauritania’s Cabinet.  Ahmed was a 2008-2009 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow at Penn State University.  Meanwhile, Armenian political magazine De Facto named Edmon Marukyan, an alumnus of the Hubert H. Humphrey Program 2010 and previously the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), “Member of Parliament of the Year.” Marukyan was elected to parliament in spring 2012.  
  • Public Affairs Section Jerusalem hosted Oberlin College Professor of History Dr. Gary Kornblith, who spoke on American democracy at An-Najah University, Birzeit University, and Al Quds Open University.  Dr. Kornblith also discussed the possibility of establishing an American Studies Program at the universities, meeting with university staff and academics at an Embassy reception designed to nurture cultural dialogue and advance the pursuit of American Studies.
  • At Rich Mix, East London (U.K.), playwright Wajahat Ali participated in an evening monologue and discussion with members of the Muslim arts community. The event attracted artists, writers, students and community leaders, including many women.  An accomplished Muslim-American writer and an engaging speaker, Mr. Ali is comfortable with both his American and his Muslim identities, and there was much discussion about the contrast between American and British Muslims on that topic.
  • xborders gamesOn January 5-6, while India and Pakistan faced each other on the cricket pitch, teams of exchange program alumni from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh engaged in the xBorder Games.  Using social media tools like Google+, Storify, and Twitter, two teams comprised of alumni from each country competed in a digital scavenger hunt.  The xBorder Games connected 45 alumni separated by geographic, cultural, and linguistic lines, created new friendships, and increased cross-cultural understanding.  U.S. Embassies Islamabad, New Delhi and Dhaka organized the event.
  • Paralympian and Fulbright Scholar Yevgeniy Tetyukhin spoke about disability policy to an audience of special education teachers and administrators at the University of Guam.  A professor, two-time Paralympian, and lifelong disability advocate, Tetyukhin is spending a year at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Center on Disability Studies, researching disability policy in the context of globalization and multicultural diversity.
  • Unconventional artists and activists narrate their own stories on a new VOA program that seeks to connect underground communities in Iran and the rest of the world.  The twice-monthly TV and web program called ZirZameen is produced by Voice of America’s Persian Service and is available in both English and Farsi editions.  The show, hosted by Mehrnoush Karimian, premiered in December and is available on social media sites, the VOA Persian satellite stream and on Livestation, a 24/7 Internet streaming platform.
  • The U.S. Ambassador to Korea hosted a New Year’s party for the Embassy’s online friends.  Out of 35,000 people who follow the post’s various social media accounts, a diverse group of 20 were invited based on their online activity. The Ambassador blogged about the party, and the Embassy will post an “Ask the Ambassador” YouTube video highlighting the event.  The Ambassador will continue this type of online-offline engagement with innovative netizens in the future.

2)  Teaching – transferring knowledge and skills that are essential in civic life, political life, and international relations.  Cultural programming promotes retention and “useability” of new knowledge through dialogue, debate, and learning-by-doing.  Two-way knowledge transfer and “paying know-how  forward” are frequent outcomes of cultural programming.

  • Pilarani Phiri from Zodiak Broadcasting radio station in Malawi – a participant in the State Department Foreign Press Center’s (FPC) 2012 Elections program for visiting journalists – reported that he Malawi journo interviews presidentsecured the first live phone interview with a Malawian president as a result of his U.S. program experience.  In his words: “one thing I learned while covering the elections is that the American President is always scrutinized by the public.  Immediately I arrived home I got in touch with our ‘White House’ to have the President answer questions from the public.  I am proud to announce that on December 31, I was the first Malawian journalist to have a live phone interview with the President where people posed questions to [him], a thing that has never happened before in my country.”
  • For four months, hundreds of Indonesian English teachers gathered every Saturday morning to take part in the series “Shaping the Way We Teach English,” taught by the [U.S. Embassy] Regional English Language Officer and English Language Fellows.  The teachers came to @america [the high-tech American Center] in Jakarta or participated via digital link from the Consulate in Medan and the American Corner in Yogyakarta.
  • U.S. Embassy Kampala’s Information Officer gave a presentation at the “Writing Our World” (WOW) workshop at Makerere University, coaching participants on using social media to broadcast their voices and market their writing.  Facebook, Twitter, and blogging were introduced as tools to expand the young writers’ network and increase attention to their work.  The Embassy has also given grants to facilitate the activities of Writing Our World through readers and writers clubs in 10 schools.  WOW’s leader is a member of the Embassy’s Youth Council.
  • AC SalfeetJerusalem: The board game Monopoly has proven a potent tool in fostering the entrepreneurial spirit among Palestinian youth, while simultaneously introducing a mainstay of American culture.  American Corner Salfeet hosted 20 undergraduate students from Al Quds Open University for a discussion about business plans, barriers to entry, and board games with a visiting U.S. diplomat.
  • Seven officials from Zambia’s Ministry of Tourism traveled to the U.S. in January on an IVLP program to enhance their planning of the 20th session of the United Nations World Tourism Organization General Assembly, which will take place in Zambia in August 2013. During the program the officials examined how to plan a world conference, including best practices, leveraging partnerships, and capitalizing on them for longer-term benefit beyond the conference.

3) Spreading the word - via local media coverage or on digital media.  While the previous two genres of cultural programming are designed to make a significant impact on the immediate participants, the purpose of this third type is to spark positive interest among the many.

  • U.S. Embassy Caracas held its annual “Baseball Visa Day” during which Venezuelan players in the U.S. major leagues and their family members obtain visas for the upcoming season.  This year some 40 major leaguers and their families visited the Consular Section for their visas, and afterwards participated in a brief ceremony and reception with coverage by multiple print and television media outlets.  Chargé d’Affaires (CDA) James Derham reminded those present that baseball is just one of many historic and cultural ties uniting Venezuela and the United States, and congratulated the players for an unprecedented season in which one Venezuelan won the batting Triple Crown, one pitched a no-hitter, another pitched a perfect game, and nine played in the World Series.   During this event, Embassy Caracas took the opportunity to promote its youth outreach program “Béisbol y Amistad” (Baseball and Friendship), now in its seventh season.
  • OBama in hong kongIn the lead-up to the U.S. Presidential Inauguration, Consulate Hong Kong began a social media project that included photos, videos and travelling cardboard cutouts of President Obama and the First Lady.  Consulate Hong Kong Facebook posts of “President Obama” riding the Mid-Levels Escalator and standing in a Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station generated 42 comments, and 213 likes.  Public Affairs Section Hong Kong will complete the project on January 21, 2013 with a video montage of the cutout President’s “tour” of Hong Kong.
  • The Innovation Generation Facebook page of State Department’s IIP Bureau hosted Monica Dodi, co-founder of MTV Europe and The Women’s Venture Capital Fund, on its “Ask the Entrepreneur” series, which features accomplished American entrepreneurs.  The discussion sparked questions from around the globe including from India, Indonesia, Mauritania, Mexico, and Pakistan.
  • MeetUS program in GermanyThe U.S. Consul General in Munich spoke to students and faculty of “Berufsschule 4,” an off-the-beaten-track school in Nuremberg.  He addressed U.S.-German relations, the U.S. presence in Bavaria, and economic and commercial ties, and tackled tough questions about car emissions, Guantanamo, gun control, and social media topics.  The MeetUS speaker program is a core part of Mission Germany’s youth outreach, and the discussion was live Tweeted to highlight the event to a broader audience.
  • Bosnian Brooklyn Nets Player Interview Makes Front Page:  The State Department’s New York Foreign Press Center assisted the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo in securing an interview with Brooklyn Nets player Mirza Teletovic - a Bosnian basketball star who has recently joined the NBA – in Dnevni Avaz (Daily Voice), the leading Bosnian newspaper and news website.
  • In January, [State Department] hosted 20 Youth Ambassadors from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Panama for a reception and meeting with the Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), which promoted the event on social media along with the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the relevant U.S. Embassies; Embassy San José alone received nearly 6,000 Facebook page views and 300 likes.

All the above constitute just a few of the highlights shared by the Under Secretary’s office for January alone.  January’s highlights in turn constitute a tiny sliver of the cultural programming that takes place week in, week out at every U.S. Embassy and Consulate around the world.  Most of it is targeted to advance specific foreign policy goals, and just about all of it is conceptualized strategically.

Each example is also a reminder that cultural diplomacy IS communication.  The U.S. can only benefit from greater use of cultural programming  to advance U.S. foreign affairs priorities.

Tweeting in State

daniel_hertzberg_twitter_use_in_government

Source: danielhertzberg.com

When the recent Diplopundit post and related news items came out about State Department revising its external communication clearance rules, a lot of people reacted with concern that State was either deliberately or merely blind-bureaucratically limiting its ability to communicate by imposing a new delay on digital communication, even on tweets.   Colleagues here at GWU quizzed me with “State Department rules might impose a 48-hour review period on employees tweets.  Because that’s the best way to communicate in the era of instant communication?”

But my experience with the State Department tells me this is not what the new draft clearance rules are about — and here is why:

Right now, if you are an Ambassador or PAO (public affairs officer) overseas you are cleared to tweet or post to social media (as well as talk to local journalists, do interviews with local media, etc.) as you see fit — and it doesn’t look like these new rules would change that.  And if you are in Washington in an office that needs to communicate publicly about something, you can work with the PA staff in your own bureau to get near-instant clearance.

(Plus, employees can always use language that’s already been cleared, e.g. text from previous official speeches and statements — and frankly, a lot of language gets recycled this way because it’s efficient and ensures consistency, which is necessarily valued in this business).

So I don’t see the new rules having any restrictive effect on on-the-job communication via digital media, either overseas or at reasonably senior levels in Washington.

To me (and again, this is just from looking at Diplopundit and the spinoff media articles from it), the new draft rules appear to do two things:

  • Actually shorten the maximum time State PA is allowed to take to clear independent thoughts on foreign affairs which State employees might want to express in a non-official or quasi-official role.  In other words, in situations where the reason people might read your blog article or listen to your speech is that you work for State, but you want to use your own words and speak your own thoughts.  And of course there’s a broad spectrum of such situations, ranging from invitational speaking that all State officers ought to do as part of their work (on one end) to whistle-blowing (at the other); and,
  • Close a loophole that indicated if State PA doesn’t respond to a request for clearance within a certain deadline, one is free to publish.

Up until now, there’s been a blanket maximum time of 30 days for clearance of such quasi-official communication, via any media. But according to the new draft rules, the very small subset of employees’ social media content that might be subject to review through this formal Department process would be guaranteed a much shorter maximum (not target) deadline for clearance.

But it’s good that journalists and the general public are interested in this. (Government always works better when the citizens are paying attention and can give sensible advice if insider-thinking shows signs of going off the rails!)

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