public diplomacy

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The Trans Pacific Partnership: More Than Just Another Trade Agreement

As the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) comes under further congressional review and becomes a topic of contention on the 2016 campaign trail, increased scrutiny has formed in foreign and domestic arenas. Although the United States Trade Representative states that the Trans Pacific Partnership “writes the rules for global trade—rules that will help increase Made-in-America exports, grow the American economy, support well-paying American jobs, and strengthen the American middle class,” critics have written that these goals do not outweigh the negative impact on the American economy or American jobs. Currently, the TPP is being marketed primarily as a way to advance American leadership in the international economic community. However, American economic exceptionalism and perceived hegemony is not always positively received. Let us explore another approach. For example, expressing how the TPP will provide benefits that extend far beyond the trade and business arenas. What many critics of the TPP neglect to mention is the promotion of democracy, that is inherent in the agreement. The U.S. government has skillfully killed multiple birds with one stone in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Instituting labor laws, environmental protection stipulations, and ensuring a free and open Internet are non-trade associated benefits attached to the TPP. Countries that participate in the TPP are not only advancing their economies, but are also taking a pledge to institute democratic policies that the U.S. has historically advocated.


Photo courtesy of United States Trade Representative


Below are some examples non-trade benefits of TPP:

Labor Laws and Worker Protection

The TPP includes worker protection measures such as the right for employees to form unions, the elimination of child labor and forced labor, and the requirement of laws relation to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health. These actions have democratic undertones and introduce more democratic policies to the countries that have signed the agreement. The TPP is a trailblazer for trade agreements signed after the Trade Promotion Authority bill, which specified that a principal objective of any future trade agreement should be binding and enforceable labor provisions, was passed. The USC Center on Public Diplomacy stated that expanding these rights to workers globally could create a new model for worker standards and a narrative that “no country is too poor or too underdeveloped” to have democratic values in their workplaces or in their society.


Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of State


Environmental Protection

Although climate change agreements have been signed, the TPP also acts as an environmental protection agreement. No trade agreement in history has included more comprehensive and enforceable environmental requirements than the TPP. Jacob Phelps, an environmental scientist who studies the effects of free trade on biodiversity, said there is a potential for the TPP to strengthen wildlife trade provisions through its prohibitions on illegal wildlife trafficking and conservation promotions. The Democracy Journal poignantly states that the TPP’s environmental protection stipulations can fight organized crime and terrorist groups that are involved in and profit from poaching/wildlife trafficking. Although the agreement is not perfect, it works toward the institution of a safer, more democratic world.


Photo courtesy of Share America, U.S. Department of State


Free and Open Internet

In an era where everything is digital, the TPP strives to make the Internet’s benefits available to all. This basic principle of equality of access is democratic in and of itself, but the Trans Pacific Partnership goes further by implementing rules that circumvent laws designed to restrict the flow of data and information. The Democracy Journal states that TPP will empower citizens by “safeguarding the digital economy and allow for new opportunities to exchange ideas, goods, and services.” The TPP offers various policies to keep the Internet free and open, including requiring governments to be transparent and implementing privacy laws that are in the public interest. Keeping the Internet an arena for innovation and free expression highlights one of the democratic values that Americans hold most dear: freedom of speech. Susan Aaronson from George Washington University’s Institute for International Economic Policy says that the TPP will have the most positive effects on the Internet “if policymakers use its provisions to enhance human welfare by challenging Internet censorship and filtering.” By ensuring digital freedom, the Trans Pacific Partnership extends First Amendment rights to global audiences, advancing democratic behavior on an international scale.

The TPP as a Democracy Promoter

Although critics of the TPP will reference its negative effects on the U.S. economy and on domestic jobs, they often neglect to mention the positive effects the agreement can have that are not related to trade or business. Advancing democracy and promoting democratic behavior across the Pacific Rim will have benefits that outweigh job quantities and average GDPs, and this is how the TPP can be sold. Paving an avenue for these twelve Asian countries to move towards democratic societies positively impacts the international community by setting new standards for trade agreements. We must present the TPP as a trailblazing agreement that exemplifies democracy and free trade as a connected unit that carves a legacy for the U.S. in global history.

To further exemplify the TPP’s nuanced, democratic nature, The Democracy Journal compares it with trade agreements in non-democratic states like China. The Journal explains how the majority of China’s trade agreements have no labor or environmental protections, allow state-owned enterprises to benefit from government subsidies, and undercut the competitiveness of other countries’ businesses. By instituting policies that solely serve the state economy, this type of trade agreement can miss out on enacting a change in political behavior. The Trans Pacific Partnership is about so much more than trade or business—it is about changing the global political environment and assisting countries to become more democratic. We have an obligation to push out initiatives that advance our own country, but we also have a shining opportunity to expand that advancement beyond our borders.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. 

Fighting ISIS on Social Media: Ideas for an Individualized Approach

The ascent of the Islamic State (ISIS) has confirmed what al-Qaeda and the Taliban already demonstrated a decade ago: strategic communications, especially counter-propaganda efforts, continue to be among the key weaknesses of Western counter-terrorism strategies. The ISIS propaganda machine has eclipsed its predecessors and peers in its reach, resonance, and relevance to local and transnational audiences. The pull of ISIS propaganda is tragically reflected in the growing number of foreign fighters that it is able to attract: U.S. security organizations estimate that about 30,000 citizens from approximately 90 countries have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq since 2011.

Experts tend to agree that a major reason for this level of recruiting has been the group’s sophisticated social media-born propaganda campaign, which has expanded its scope from the more esoteric conflict in Syria and Iraq to a worldwide appeal. It is difficult to assess the tangible impact that the audiovisual strategy of ISIS on social media has in the group’s recruitment capacity. At the same time, there are significant grounds to speculate that ISIS’ communication through social networks is connected with the radicalization process of a terrorist.


Data gathered by the Soufan Group. Graph created by the author.

In discourse about countering terrorism, the term “radicalization” is used extensively but remains without an unequivocal definition. Radicalization -and more specifically, involvement in terrorism- might be best regarded as a set of diverse processes that are personal and unique to each individual. Indeed, people are often inspired by radical content on social media and some sort of personal interaction with a relative, friend, neighbor, religious leader or someone communicating with them one-on-one online.

The terrorists behind the ISIS propaganda machine understand this process very well. In the last two years the group has mastered a model of individualized, tailored recruitment, as demonstrated in the segmentation of the group’s messages on social media, expertly produced to resonate with their specific targeted audience. However the United States’ counter-propaganda efforts against ISIS recruiting strategy do not seem to consistently involve a widespread effort to exploit this kind of individualized outreach. And they should.

Indeed social media research has shown that messages from friends and peers are more persuasive than general advertising. Other bodies of research also show that youth at risk of falling into many kinds of trouble, from drugs to gangs, often benefit from even small interventions by parents, mentors, or peers. However, most of the government response to ISIS’ recruiting strategy on social media is not interactive. Too often it is a one-way broadcast, not a dialogue. In a lot of cases, what is missing is a widespread effort to establish effective one-on-one contact online with the people who are absorbing content from ISIS and are at risk of becoming radicalized.


The process of radicalization and its influencing factors. Inspired by Shaarik H. Zafar’s dynamics of radicalization. Visual created by the author.

A few crucial considerations about audiences and messengers should be made here. First of all, the audience to target should be carefully selected among those people who are considered at risk of radicalization, but have not yet been swayed. It is pointless to engage in an online battle with ISIS supporters who have already been persuaded into extremism. This was arguably one of the biggest mistakes committed by the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communication (CSCC) in its embarrassing campaign on Twitter “Think Again, Turn Away”, where it was directly addressing prominent jihadist accounts. The conversations that resulted from this campaign were not only counterproductive, but also provided a prominent stage on which radical jihadists could launch their messages.

The second point that needs to be stressed is that counter-propaganda messages need to come from credible voices. Much has already been written about this and there is a widespread understanding that messaging undermining ISIS needs to originate from alternative voices that appear independent from Western governments. However, in the context of voices inside social media, there are is a key area that ISIS has been exploiting and that the US has not yet exploited to its full potential: personal testimonials. Indeed a significant percentage of ISIS propaganda audiovisual consists of personal testimonials of Western foreign fighters who have joined the Islamic State’s cause. Take the example of the Australian doctor who now works in a hospital in Raqqa and serves as a recruiter on YouTube. The U.S. should mimic ISIS’s approach in this area as well and exploit the stories of the people who left the Islamic State, who abandoned the cause, who felt they had been betrayed. Properly amplifying these narratives on social media would help expose the reality of what ISIS is doing.

Finally the third point to consider is one of content and aesthetics. ISIS has long been employing the aesthetics of popular culture by imitating contemporary Hollywood films, video games and TV shows. The US should also be exploiting this appealing entertainment dimension in its counter-propaganda. One interesting example is that of Humza Arshad, a young British Pakistani Muslim comedian who challenges the jihadi appeal trough comedy. His YouTube videos have drawn over 60 million views, making a hero to Muslim teenagers and perhaps the one of the most potent weapons in Britain’s campaign to counter violent Islamist extremism. Arshad, as a young Muslim who started this endeavor independently from his own initiative, appears as a credible voice that young British Muslims are willing to listen to. Through his channel, he is able to engage in a significant dialogue with young people at risk of radicalization.


Humza Arshad’s channel on YouTube. Courtesy of Humza Productions

All of these considerations should be integrated in a structured one-to-one targeting strategy to face ISIS recruiting actions on social media. As an example, a London think tank called the Institute for Strategic Dialogue recently developed a methodical peer-to-peer anti-extremism strategy. The group initially recruited 10 former extremists (five from far-right groups, five from jihadist groups) to operate as “interveners”. They then utilized a Facebook function called ‘Graph Search’ to locate a group of people whose interests, pages liked, group memberships, and other indicators indicated that they were likely to be moving toward extremism. The interveners sorted through the list and narrowed it down to 160 people and used the little-known “pay per message” feature (you can pay $1 to send a message to strangers) to start a conversation with them.

The initial results showed that most recipients responded to the first message, a crucial preliminary step. Approximately 60 percent of them then began a “sustained engagement” when the initial approach was nonjudgmental and empathetic. The study was only a small test, but it shows what a comprehensive peer-to-peer strategy against extremism could possibly look like. Social media has assisted extremist causes, but if we optimize them there are a lot of ways for us to push back using the same tools.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. 



How Far Before We Get Closer To China?

Since the beginning of 2015, a new weekly program Closer to China with Robert Lawrence Kuhn has been shown on CCTV English Channel. The program covers various issues that China faces: politics, economics, society, diplomacy, science, etc. Also, it makes a bold attempt to let a foreigner to be the host. In 30 minutes, the host interviews Chinese government officials, scholars, and other related professionals and “asks the hard, specific questions that the world wants to know about.”


Screenshot of the program


The goal of the program, according to Dr. Kuhn, is to present the real situation in China through discussions with China’s thought leaders in all areas, leaders whom foreigners would rarely meet. For example, in the episode of Rule of Law and Judicial Reforms, the host invited Yunteng Hu, the president of Second Circuit Court of the Supreme People’s Court, to talk about how the rule of law works in China today. Another example is in China’s Organ Transplant Reform, Jiefu Huang, the former vice minister of Ministry of Health, talked about where the organs in medical transplants in China come from.

Although all of the English programs on CCTV are available online, visitors usually need to go to the bottom of the website to find these programs. But Closer to China is listed at a prominent position of CCTV’s English website, right under the logo of CCTV on the top of the website, together with Tibet and One Belt, One Road. Also, Closer to China has its own web page, which provides comprehensive information about the program, including “Videos,” “Anchor,” “About us,” and “Contact us.” The audience can easily find not only all the episodes but also some background information about the issue discussed. Obviously, CCTV wants more people to know and watch this program.


Screenshot of the website

So has CCTV’s dream of reaching Western audience come true? In order to find out whether this program works, I invited five friends of mine, who are from the U.S., Russia and Taiwan, to watch one of the episodes, The CPC’s (Communist Party of China) Recent Battle Against Corruption (7/26/2015). Although it is impossible to draw any conclusions based on the opinions of such a small group of people, this may shed some light on how a wider audience might view the program. The majority of my small focus group (3 of 5) think the program is informative and that it has more or less increased their understanding of the issue. Meanwhile, the group stated that they would like to watch other episodes to know more about the recent policy of the CPC.

The results of the interviews may seem to be discouraging, especially considering how much time and resources CCTV has put into making this program. But all of the participants said they thought the program itself was of high-quality. The problem was the perception that CCTV is the mouthpiece of the CPC, making people distrustful of the source of the information in the first place. However, the participants pointed out a problem with the program: on one hand, they think the host asks key and sharp questions about Chinese reform. On the other hand, they feel the interviewees did not really answer the questions directly. What the interviewees do is show support for President Xi Jinping by quoting his speech; they try not only to align themselves with the government, but also with the President himself. One of the participants even told me this program reminded him of the articles published by Western media, which describe how President Xi has developed a personality cult recently and how it is damaging the Party’s “collective” leadership style. He said he had not believed these news reports until watching this video. Also, my focus group thought the program tells just one side of the story: the efforts made by the ruling party. My informants also expected to hear more opinions from outside of the power circle, such as citizens and professionals. For this reason, they expressed a need more information from different sources before deciding whether this program could improve their overall opinion of China’s anti-corruption campaign.


Screenshot of the program

There is no doubt that there is a new trend in China’s government-led publicity in recent years, the transformation from “defense” to “offense.” In the past, the government’s efforts were aimed at debunking the myths related to China appearing in foreign news reports. But in recent years, China has realized the importance of soft power. Instead of simply reacting to foreign media interpretations of China’s policies, China now tries to take the initiative in telling its own story. Official programs, such as Closer to China, are examples of this trend with policy interpretation playing a large role in the program. Episodes such as the Shanghai Pilot Free Trade Zone or China’s Health Care Reform: Doctor-Patient Tension put a positive spin on the latest policies of China, demonstrating the Chinese government’s resolve and capacity in dealing with these issues.

In February, President Xi made a tour of CCTV. On the wall of the studio, there is a banner saying “The CCTV’s family name is the Party and it shows absolute loyalty to the Party.” To foreigners, this may be an example of the government’s interference with the independence of media, which is the vital source of credibility of western media such as BBC and CNN. Unfortunately, Chinese leaders still fail to realize the real soft power is best generated from civil society, not from the government or the ruling party. With this in mind, the real question people may want to ask is how long it will take before we really get closer to China.

Image 9_meitu_2

Screenshot of CCTV News

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication. 

The Real Potential of Virtual Exchanges

The Obama administration broke with decades of policy when it extended a diplomatic overture to Iran in the form of a controversial and polarizing nuclear deal. Some experts characterize the deal as a monumental blunder that will threaten regional security and stability. Others hold it up as realistic and workable, the first step towards a more positive relationship with this adversarial nation. Any number of potential outcomes could follow from such bold diplomacy, and the move will surely be the subject of much debate for years to come. Regardless of which side one takes, the deal is seen by all as a harbinger of change; it will open a door, creating new diplomatic opportunities in the process. If the administration plays its cards right, responding to these opportunities with cautious optimism and a cogent strategy, reconciliation between the United States and the Iranian people may be possible. Through dialogue, mutual understanding, and public diplomacy, the State Department can lay the groundwork for new and rewarding relationships in the region. One way to start is with the creation of virtual exchange programs.

Virtual exchanges are technology-enabled, sustained, people-to-people communication efforts. Using new media technologies like Skype and online video games to connect people from distant locations and diverse backgrounds, virtual exchanges can be leveraged to stimulate conversations and encourage meaningful cross-cultural learning. Participants are exposed to new ideas and new ways of thinking; they build new relationships and acquire new skills, all from the comfort of their home country.


Figure 1 – A limited virtual exchange sponsored by the ECA

Exchange programs have long been the cornerstone of the State Department’s public diplomacy strategy. The Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) was created in 1961 for the purpose of building “friendly, peaceful relations…through academic, cultural, sports, and professional exchanges.” Participants learn new skills and make lasting connections that may someday benefit the United States. Today, ECA oversees over a hundred separate exchange programs with a budget of over $600M.

Despite these vast resources, or perhaps because of them, ECA has done relatively little experimentation with virtual exchanges. Why bother connecting online when you can afford to connect in person? In 2013, ECA created a virtual exchange team as a part of its experimental Collaboratory program, largely in response to the efforts of a handful of NGOs (Soliya, iEarn-USA, and Global Nomads Group, comprising the Virtual Exchange Coalition). The team has since designed virtual exchanges that primarily extend physical ones; participants already involved in a limited number of exchange programs are encouraged to connect online before and after their travel experience. This supplemental approach ignores many of the unique benefits offered by virtual exchanges.

By virtue of operating online, virtual exchanges possess two great strengths: first, they are able to reach large audiences who are unable to participate in traditional exchange programs. Technology has made instantaneous communication all but free, dramatically lowering the costs of cross-cultural conversation. Less than 1 percent of US citizens will ever participate in a physical exchange, but over 88 percent have access to the internet. Second, virtual exchanges are low risk. As participants connect from their local homes, offices, or classrooms, they are not exposed to the dangers of travel. This is particularly true for countries experiencing internal conflict or those with adversarial relations with the United States – countries like Syria and Iran.

Thankfully, it appears that the ECA is coming around. Last year, it sponsored a pilot Student-Led Virtual Exchange Program that digitally connected American University students with students in other countries. The program was a resounding success, illustrating the power of virtual exchanges to reach new audiences and promote cross-cultural learning.


Figure 2 – Peace Park, an online video game that connects Georgian and Abkhaz youth in a positive virtual environment

In the case of Iran, it is easy to envision virtual exchanges built around art, music, architecture, or fashion; a majority of Iranians view the United States favorably, with thriving black markets catering to demand for all forms of officially-banned American pop culture.

From my own experience, I recall a virtual exchange between my elementary school in Kansas and one in South Dakota during the bicentennial celebration of Lewis and Clark’s cross country expedition. Students were connected via a video application and asked to discuss a book and plan a fictional event. Neither I nor any of the other children were particularly interested in Lewis and Clark, so we largely sat quietly or talked about other things.

While this particular program wasn’t a success, it both illustrates one of the strengths of virtual exchanges and offers an important lesson for diplomatic ones. First, by operating entirely over the internet, the two schools invested relatively little compared to the thousands of dollars and hours of time they would have had to spend to enable a physical exchange. It was an experiment, not a disaster. Second, the example shows that even with the best intentions, success isn’t assured and can’t be forced. Any virtual exchange, whether with Iran or any other country, will live and die by the interest and participation it is able to generate among both populations.

In summary, virtual exchanges are an ideal starting point towards reconciliation between the United States and the populations of adversarial states like Iran. They are a low cost, low risk way to build mutual understanding. While they don’t guarantee meaningful interaction, successes can be identified and built into traditional exchanges over time. ECA should expand its efforts to develop programs that better leverage the unique strengths of virtual exchange programs.

Women Hold Up Half The Sky

Last week, I, along with two other GW Global Communications masters students, was fortunate to attend the 2016 International Women of Courage Awards at the U.S. Department of State as part of their social media meet up to share the events of the day and the stories of the honorees. This year, they honored their 100th woman since beginning the awards in 2007. They honored 14 women from Asia, South and Central America, the Middle East, and Europe. You can read all of their biographies here.


Initially, my intention was to discuss the important contributions these women made to their societies and why they are so deserving of these awards. But, upon hearing Vice President Biden’s keynote address, I found myself reflecting upon the important role our elected officials and other representatives of the U.S. government play in public diplomacy.

Humble, and at times self-deprecating, and of course speaking with his signature charm, Vice President Joe Biden delivered a thirty minute long speech that not only commended the courageous the women in attendance for their work to further equality in their own countries; he also spoke at length about the progress the United States still needs to make in the fight for equality.

“Abuse is abuse is abuse. Period,” the Vice President said to thunderous applause. “We have to change the culture not only here in America, but around the world,” Vice President Biden said.

An important part of public diplomacy is the exchange of ideas and sharing of values that make the world a better place for all. More importantly, I’d argue, is the establishment of credibility and trust between cultures for any kind of public diplomacy to be successful.

When America’s leaders acknowledge that our country shares similar challenges with other nations around the world, and say that we are working to solve those challenges, our word becomes much stronger, and our legitimacy and credibility become deeper. This is particularly true for issues of equality and justice for women, which more often than not have blurred international boundaries.

“In America, we make many mistakes. We don’t treat women as well as we should either,” Biden said. “But, we’re working like the devil on it, to change the culture.”

He later outlined his extensive work on the “It’s On Us” campaign that is taking place on college campuses to empower students to speak up when they know sexual assault, sexual violence, or rape is taking place.

For Americans, stories of challenges facing women in other countries can feel like they are a world away. Stories of abuse in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, or China, on the surface, sound like they are not similar to the challenges facing women in the United States. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

As scholars, we often talk about public diplomacy as needing to be dialogic in order for it to be successful. This year’s International Women of Courage honorees stood up against corruption in their governments, fought for fair treatment of transgender persons, and equal economic opportunities for women, among other incredible acts of courage. These are all issues that, in some fashion or another, American women are also facing today.

“Women hold up half the sky. More than that, they’re half the population, slightly higher; they’re half the grey matter in the world; half the brain power; probably more than half the energy,” Biden said. “These are things that drive societies to prosper, to give our children better opportunities than we had in whatever society it is.”


This event at the State Department gave them the opportunity to share the steps they took to overcome these challenges, and generate a dialogue with American policymakers for how to further empower women around the world.


Learning from the challenges these women face and how they are slowly but surely working to overcome them is an important part of an effective public diplomacy dialogue. Each of the honorees, in their own unique way, stand as role models for American girls and women who are fighting for gender equality here in the United States.

PD Event Highlight – 2016 Walter Roberts Lecture

On February 22, the George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication (IPDGC) hosted David Ensor, former director of the Voice of America, and renowned journalist, as speaker for the 2016 Walter Roberts lecture. Dr. Ensor focused much of his presentation on how the United States should respond to the hostile communications environment it faces in the world today. Russian disinformation, terrorist propaganda and online recruiting efforts, a decidedly unpolished presidential campaign – all work against the US government’s interests abroad. Dr. Ensor believes the State Department can no longer be “squeamish” about dealing with these problems; counter-messaging, counter-narratives, and other offensive tactics are necessary going into the future.

Voice of America plays a crucial role in this strategy. Dr. Ensor cited viewership data showing that the broadcast agency has grown consistently over the past decade despite budget cuts, reaching 180 million people worldwide and as much as 25 percent of Iran’s population. Voice of America should and does export American freedoms to a global audience; its “honest journalism” serves as a contrast to the propaganda. Some in Congress feel that the institution should lean more towards policy advocacy to better counter that propaganda, but Dr. Ensor believes “telling the truth about ourselves” and sticking to the high road of objective reporting will better serve the state’s interests in the long run. Further, he argued persuasively that no matter which path Voice of America takes, it will “need an audience” to have any impact. That audience tunes in today because they trust the coverage. Talking to the world about the Snowden leaks, the Ferguson riots, and the Trump campaign, warts and all, builds credibility – which is the currency of the communications realm.

The balance of Dr. Ensor’s presentation focused on a bill currently floating around Congress. In addition to redefining Voice of America as an advocacy organization, this bill would split the news agency from its sister groups, such as the Radio Frees, creating competition, redundancy, and an inefficient hierarchy. While Voice of America is to a degree “handicapped” by its budget and the detached Broadcasting Board of Governors currently overseeing it, Dr. Ensor argued that this bill would do more harm than good in attempting to address those ills. As an alternative, he suggested that the government’s public diplomacy efforts restructure under a strong, unitary CEO that understands the strengths and limitations of soft power in the digital age. For that restructuring to happen, however, Congress itself must understand the advantages of soft power in advancing our agenda.

Check out the video of the event here.


Event Recap: U.S. Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun Discusses Networks & Engagement in Public Diplomacy

In an insightful and entertaining session on March 24th, U.S. Ambassador to the UK Matthew Barzun discussed the importance of engagement and networks in public diplomacy. Ambassador Barzun described how since almost all phones sold nowadays are mobile phones, the term itself has become an oxymoron. Barzun believed that the term public diplomacy was following the same trend line as the importance of public engagement increases.   

To illustrate his point, Barzun asked the audience to describe which 130-year old company produced the first digital encyclopedia. The answer was Encarta, which was backed by the world’s most powerful and rich software company Microsoft. Yet this multi-billion dollar company was driven out of business by a ‘kid from Alabama,’ Jimmy Wales, who developed a bottom up model called Wikipedia, ‘the largest knowledge transfer engine in history.’

Barzun then asked the audience to imagine four squares along the following lines:

Digital Hierarchy
Analogue Network

According to Ambassador Barzun, the magic was not going digital but going network and digital.  But one could have very effective combinations of analogue and network such as conference calls. The key Barzun emphasized is to engage. Inside an organization one can be surprised what one can accomplish if rather than task people, one asks people for help. In public events the key is to listen, seeking not so much to be understood as to understand. “Outreach” or “reaching out” is not nearly as effective as engagement, which involves understanding and listening.  

“If you listen, people will hear you differently,” he said. “If you repeat the pattern, good stuff happens.”

Answering a question about socio-media analytics, Ambassador Barzun noted that “things can be very precise without being accurate.”  Judge the effectiveness of what is happening in the digital world by comparing the same to the analogue or real world. Computer or digital tools can be misused or overused. Twitter can allow an overuse of a broadcasting approach or power point can be overused to bombard audiences with information: “If power corrupts, Power Points corrupt absolutely.”

Ambassador Barzun stated that public diplomacy can build a reservoir of good will. You can fill the reservoir ‘a cup at a time’ or sometimes with a ‘hose’ and refill it when it gets punctured and fill it again. A positive example was President Obama’s dancing the tango in Argentina, which he said demonstrated humility and an interest in the local culture.  

Ambassador Barzun closed by describing the image of the hierarchy, which could be described as triangles, with, for example, a Minister of Foreign Affairs at the top of the pyramid, and the circle of influences such as journalists to the wider public, which could be imagined as a cloud encircling the other two. We are living more and more or our lives online but engagement remains paramount. If one approaches challenges in a hierarchy mindset, one will fail just like Encarta.  


Prerequisites for Using Social Media to Oppose the State

Reading Zaharna’s articles on the IV Quadrant of Public Diplomacy and Going for the Jugular (with Nur Uysal), I couldn’t help but wonder why the IV Quadrant is so often associated with opposition to the government.   It is clear that if the public initiates a project, it is setting the agenda, a form of framing which puts the state in a reactive and somewhat defensive mode. Capture

(Zaharna’s Quadrant Model: Quadrant of Public Diplomacy )

Many of of the most successful Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) are advocacy institutions focusing on a few issues.   The Sierra Club, for example, focusing on protecting the environment or the International Rescue Committee, which assists refugees, have name brand recognition associated with particular themes. Human rights NGOs would not focus on environmental issues unless there was a human rights angle nor would an environmental organization focus on human rights.    Such organizations exist for a cause, which in the case of the Clinton Health Access Initiative may be to partner with governments to overcome barriers to sustainable development or in cases such as MoveOn.Org to encourage governments and politicians to adopt liberal policies and change current practices.   The fundraising of these organizations depends on identifying a slice of the population focusing on their issue of concern facing a problem which needs to be overcome.  This focus gives NGOs enormous power as they can throw more resources at a particular problem than much wealthier organizations or even nations, which have hundreds of issues to address.   There is often an inherent bias of NGOs to oppose governments or vested interests in order to enact change.  If an NGO has too many items on its agenda, it loses focus and identity.  Its fundraising, followers, and future depend on having an important issue to deal with facing formidable opposition.   It is better to have one powerful opponent to mobilize followers. Often consisting of volunteers who join because they are personally affected by the cause, NGO members have the advantage of passion for the issue as well as in depth knowledge of local issues which drove volunteers to join the movement in the first place.   This ground truth stands in opposition to the impersonal and distant bureaucracy of the government.

In Germany for example, the NGO Campact has a team of 22 social media activists focusing on anti-globalization issues which mobilizes its 1.7 million supporters.  Given its exclusive focus and large staff, this institution can outgun the U.S. Embassy in Germany on this issue.   Campaigning against the Transatlantic Trade and Investments Partnership (T-TIP), Campact organizes on-line petitions, anti-T-TIP demonstrations, flash mobs, lobbying campaigns, and marches throughout Germany.

Let us look  at Quadrant IV (see previous post for discussion of quadrants) with some examples of NGOs and independent journalists who challenge the Russian narrative from neighboring Ukraine.  Perhaps the most effective debunker of the Russian narrative in the Ukraine is the NGO (, based in Kiev which was established in 2014, originally by graduates, alumni, and students associated with the Mohyla School of Journalism, to “check facts, verify information, and refute verifiable disinformation about events in Ukraine covered in the media.”  To inoculate itself against attacks, provides transparency about its sources of funding and contributors. The site regularly refutes Russian disinformation, includes videos, articles on topics such as the weaponization of information, and has an especially useful section on tools to identify fake stories.   This section provides citizen journalists techniques for finding the source of the photo, including 13 online tools to identify a photo’s authenticity, techniques for finding the information about and the owner of website or the use of geolocation tools for verification.  In short this growing website provides media literacy tools any Internet user can use to ferret out fakes.   Other websites such as have similar agendas.

The example illustrates how an organization from another country, in this case Ukraine,  can oppose a repressive regime with actions which probably would not be allowed  in Russia itself.  The Campact example shows that in an environment supporting press freedom, an NGO can effectively mobilize the populace against government policy.  When conditions are ripe including freedom of speech and assembly and the associated ability to criticize the government, social media can be an effective mobilizing tool.  When these conditions are absent, repressive regimes can use social media tools to help suppress opposition.  Depending on circumstances,  social media can be a tool to liberate or repress.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.


Return of the First Quadrant of Public Diplomacy

Return of the Ist Quadrant of Public Diplomacy

In her excellent articles entitled “The Fourth Quadrant of Public Diplomacy,” and Going for the Jugular  R.S. Zaharna describes how relations between the state and public must be taken into consideration in “strategic PD options.”


Zaharna describes Quadrant I as the traditional view of public diplomacy with the state as the actor (State based) promoting state goals (state centric). Quadrant II still maintains state control but must touch the needs, interests, and goals of the public (public centered) for the message to resonate.  Quadrant III described the public as the actor or initiator of messages (public based) designed to resonate with the State (State-centric) to move it to action.  Finally Quadrant IV describes public initiatives designed largely for public consumption.  In her article, Zaharna labels the rise of the non-state adversary as a wake up call for public diplomacy practitioners.  I would like to focus on Quadrants I and IV in the next two articles.   In Quadrant I the State adopts an assertive posture, whereas in Quadrant IV it is non-state actors.

The tools of social media have enabled non-state actors to reach audiences unimaginable in the pre-Internet age.   With the powerful media tools of the I-phone at virtually everyone’s disposal, everybody can and occasionally does become a reporter even if inadvertently.  Witness the media attention to police cam or private citizen videos of people being shot to see how difficult it is for authorities to maintain control of the narrative.  Citizen-based reporting then can challenge the state’s version of a story whether it be the use of police force in the U.S. or behavior of politicians who thought they were addressing private groups.

Yet there are many countries including Russia and most recently Turkey where citizen reporters or even reporters in the mainstream press challenge the government version of events at their own risk.   Witness the taking over of the management of Koza İpek Holding by a group of trustees appointed by the Turkish government, which resulted in the dismissal of dozens of journalists and the transformation of the holding’s media outlets to government mouthpieces or the prosecutions and detentions of large numbers of journalists.   Or within Russia where Freedom House describes the gradual transition of media supporting government policies to actively participating in its ‘information war.’  A recent Freedom House report describes two new laws which restrict freedom on the Internet.  Federal Law 398 allows the government to block websites which contain ‘extremist’ elements (a rapidly growing category) while Federal Law 97 requires bloggers with more than 3,000 daily viewers to register as media outlets with all the restrictions that implies.  Meanwhile large numbers of journalists are prosecuted for defamation and are actually physically assaulted.  The news agenda and editorial policy of media outlets are set by the government and more than 90% of Russians have state run television as their main source of information.

RT Images of supposed U.S. mercenaries in Ukraine (it turns out the image was actually from New Orleans), divert attention from the fact that Russian soldiers are in Ukraine.   RT reports that Ukrainian forces consistently break the cease fire, or that MH 17 was shot down by a Ukrainian missile or aircraft go largely unchallenged within Russia itself.  Looking at Quadrant I, one can see that these stories are a Russian state-initiated and controlled project with an audience that largely lacks an alternative source of information.  It is no surprise then that within Russia itself 88% of the populace according to a June 2015 Pew Research Center poll trust Putin to do the right thing in world affairs and 81% hold an unfavorable view of the U.S.  Looking at the Russia internal dynamics at least, it appears extremely difficult to penetrate the media landscape and influence public opinion on key issues such as the Ukraine.

Strong claims have been made that the Internet and digital media are irresistible forces for democratization. In fact, as we have seen in the cases of suppressive regimes, states can use the very tools that supposedly foster empowering the public to quash dissent.   As T.V. Reed and others have written, undemocratic regimes can use the trail left by on-line communications to pursue, harass, imprison, and even kill dissidents.  One salient example of the use of Internet as a double edged sword is Iran, where the security forces and a newly constituted cyber police unit was able to monitor personal computers in homes.   The regime also issued new rules requiring Internet Cafes to install cameras monitoring Internet users and forcing the cafes to collect customers names and contact information for a period up to six months.  Ultimately the green Twitter revolution was crushed through these strong arm tactics, which have been described as a high tech inquisition.

In an excellent article entitled “Hijacking Soft Power,” Chris Walker writes that while China has expanded Internet access to hundreds of millions of users, it has also enacted laws stipulating up to a three year prison sentence for certain categories of messages and reach deemed defamatory.   Walker cites Freedom House reports indicating that 15 of the 18 MENA countries are less free than they were 10 years ago.  Many countries are using a combination of Internet technology, censorship, and propaganda to impose their own version of reality.  As Walker states, these suppressive regimes are learning from each other and refining their approach to dominate the media space.

In short, one must enjoy a minimal amount of freedom of speech to effectively challenge the State as outlined in Quadrant IV.   In environments allowing a freedom of speech, social media tools can indeed be an overpowering force with a voice and set of arguments closer to the people than the governments they may target.   The next blog will give some examples of successful applications of Quadrant IV.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily those of the U.S. Government.

Balancing Relationships – Incorporating Policy into Pedagogy: The Iceberg Below the Tip (Part 7)

This is the sixth of a seven-part series. See parts one, two, threefour,  five, and six for background.

The previous six blogs have described how policy governs almost every action of a PD officer and how a large portion of a PD professional’s energy is consumed on internal alignment of the embassy and Washington in support of policy goals.  The public activity that is visible is the result of solicitations of proposals from Washington, elevator pitches, numerous conversations, meetings, memos, and proposals seeking funding.   Although research papers prepare students for subsequent courses, future diplomats and practitioners of PD need to master information and action memos as well to succeed in their jobs.  Following are some classroom activities which focus on activities PD professionals must complete before a program sees the light of day.

Activity 1 Strategy Memo to Washington in support of US policy.  After working with the instructor to focus on a European or Asian Country, choose from the following list of topics and select the country you will work in as PAO.  To inform your memo, study websites in the links related to your topic:

a. T-TIP (USTR Web Site on Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), US. Mission to EU

b. TPP Trans Pacific Partnership  USTR on TPP,  US Department of State on TPP

c. countering violent extremism (Bureau of Counterterrorism Department of State)

d. English teaching (Check Office of English Language Programs for ideas)

e. environmental programming (choose type: climate change, beach cleanup, reforestation, (google beach cleanup US Embassy, or reforestation US Embassy for examples), recycling (Check  US Embassy Berlin’s Going Green link for many examples of possible  projects for secondary students)


Include in your memo the following steps:

f. Situation/Importance of (country) to policy issue

g. Importance of issue to U.S. policy.

h. Sources of opposition/obstacles to overcome (Students should study opposition websites and articles to learn arguments of the other side.)

i. Values in the country to tap

j. Program activities

k. Budget for Program

l. How success of the program will be measured

Activity 2 Write an Information Memo to your supervisor evaluating an embassy’s  Public Diplomacy

  1. Social media presence
  2. Website Embassy
  3. Twitter feed
  4. Facebook

Include in your memo the following steps:

  1. Description of activity with statistics
  2. Goal of activity
  3. Strengths
  4. Weaknesses
  5. Suggestions for improvement keeping context and institution’s policy in mind.

Activity 3 Reverse Engineer Memo from Visible Program.   Analyze one of the following PD programs in a foreign embassy in the U.S. or a U.S. embassy abroad.   Write the action memo which resulted in these programs.

Examples to look at are the following:

  1. Social Media of institution in country x
  2. Public events of institution (music, dance, exhibit, talk, culinary demonstration, etc.)
  3. Exchanges
  4. Hard copy outreach (letters, pamphlets, posters, banners)

Activity 5 Elevator Pitch to supervisor for funding for program.   Write a 30-second (no more) elevator pitch in support of a PD program of your choice.  Use steps f-k in Activity 1 above.

Activity 6  Attend a program organized by a local think tank, educational or other institution.  Write a one paragraph highlight of a program. Include the following:

  1. Date and place of program
  2. Number and make up of participants
  3. Description of activity with explicit link to policy or mission of the organization (check website for mission statement)
  4. Participant reaction
  5. Short term and probable long-term results
  6. A photo in your highlight which tells the story you are trying to convey

Activity 7 Representational Event.  You are going to attend a large reception in country (you choose).   To prepare for the event, go over the policy points you feel will be discussed and review guidance to defend U.S. policy.   Go through the following steps:

  1. Choose the country where the reception is taking place and analyze the current issues which have U.S. connections
  2. Answer the following: a. What are possible objections participants may have to U.S. policy? b. What are good responses to these objections? c. What are some points you will try to interject into the conversation without prompting?
  3. Do a role play with other students (who have studied the country and issues)

Activity 8 Mission statements.   Analyze the mission statement of an institution of your choosing which organizes programs for the public.   Describe how the activities of the institution support or do not support the mission.   Choose an institution which does not have a published mission statement and write one based on the activities you can see.

Activity 9 Write a Request for Grant Proposals to put on the website of an embassy of your choosing.   Start with a policy goal and related problem the grant will solve.  Write a cover memo for your superiors describing the purpose of the grant and asking that funds be set aside.

Activity 10 Write a memo requesting institutional support for a conference you would like to organize.  Include the purpose of the program including the policy goal to be met, the desired outcomes of the event, the speakers you propose, the format, and a request for funding with a cost breakdown.

Activity 11  (Students are divided into groups of four playing the role of Public Affairs Officer, Economic Counselor, Political Counselor, and Regional Security Officer (RSO).   Buck up your knowledge of country X focusing on your own area (Economic Counselor looks at economic issue, RSO on security issues, etc.)  Clear on a Memorandum already written from the Cultural Affairs Officer (starting with PAO) recommending a large event to be held at the embassy.  You can copy edit as well as clear on content.   The final memo should reflect the input of all participants.

The classroom activities above are routine for public diplomacy professionals.

Students appreciate doing real world type activities which mirror work outside of the university.   This type of activity is useful regardless of the institution one works for whether it be another government or an NGO.  The important point is to tap the values of the institution you serve to justify the activity you propose.   In any PD program, the activity visible to the public is just the tip of the iceberg of supporting memos and conversations which made the activity possible.

Disclaimer: The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the United States Government.

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