Techie State Department: Public Diplomacy, Ediplomacy, or Just Buzz?

Friday, April 20th 2012

Have you noticed the chatter about the State Department and new media over the past month?

ITEM: After a Tumblr blog put captions on photos of Secretary Clinton wearing sunglasses, imagining text messages that she might be sending to celebrities, the Secretary didn’t protest.  She invited the authors to the State Department to meet in person.  Public diplomacy can’t buy this kind of publicity.

ITEM: The U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, resorted to Twitter (@mcfaul) to complain about harassment, which he attributed to people hacking into his private scheduling records.    Not your father’s State Department.

ITEM: An Australian study on “21st Century Statecraft,” claiming that the State Department has 150 people working on “ediplomacy” prompted further discussion.  Evgeny Morozov questioned the effectiveness of “ediplomacy,” noting that Secretary Clinton’s Freedom to Connect speech hasn’t been followed by greater freedom of speech around the globe.

The pundits are confusing three different applications of technology in foreign affairs.

  • eDiplomacy.  While a specific Office of eDiplomacy does many things, it is mostly aimed at knowledge management, which occurs on social media apps inside the State Department’s network.
  • Public Diplomacy.  Maybe this is where the Aussies get 150 e-diplomats.  Legions of writers and other content creators have always been there to put out the official and unofficial word.  These editorial workers have moved online aggressively, both to follow their audience and also to cut expenses for print and broadcast media production.
  • The ad hoc application of technology to foreign policy problems.  Think “text aid to Haitian relief.”  This and similar efforts have been championed by Secretary Clinton’s technology advisor Alec Ross.  (Ross was reported to be the person who tipped off Secretary Clinton that she had gone viral on Tumblr.)  State and USAID are both using information and other technologies in creative ways for development and assistance.  Freedom to Connect, on the other hand, is more about policy than about technology, so that doesn’t really count as an application.

These three trends have generated oodles of favorable publicity during Secretary Clinton’s tenure, but they are likely to take different directions afterward.  Meanwhile, the coolness factor is -- well, brilliant public relations.

One person has commented on this article so far

Joe B. Johnson

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Joe B. Johnson consults on government communication and technology after a career in the United States Foreign Service.  He is an instructor for the National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where he teaches strategic planning for public diplomacy. authors name for more info

Author: Joe Johnson

We welcome comments from our readers that advocate and shed light on the subject of public diplomacy. We avoid discussion that is politically partisan, commercial in nature or offensive. To prevent inappropriate comments and spam we screen each comment before publishing it, so please excuse us if you do not see your remark right away.

Your important article

Joe -- Thank you for your important piece. Was delighted to be enlightened by it via Twitter (will of course cite your article with pleasure in the Public Diplomacy Review) but wish thoughtful items such as yours appeared on "public diplomacy" Google Search so that they get the attention they deserve. Best, john

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