Shunning Facebook, and Living to Tell About It

December 13, 2011

Tyson Balcomb quit Facebook after a chance encounter on an elevator. He found himself standing next to a woman he had never met — yet through Facebook he knew what her older brother looked like, that she was from a tiny island off the coast of Washington and that she had recently visited the Space Needle in Seattle.

“I knew all these things about her, but I’d never even talked to her,” said Mr. Balcomb, a pre-med student in Oregon who had some real-life friends in common with the woman. “At that point I thought, maybe this is a little unhealthy.”

As Facebook prepares for a much-anticipated public offering, the company is eager to show off its momentum by building on its huge membership: more than 800 million active users around the world, Facebook says, and roughly 200 million in the United States, or two-thirds of the population.

But the company is running into a roadblock in this country. Some people, even on the younger end of the age spectrum, just refuse to participate, including people who have given it a try.

One of Facebook’s main selling points is that it builds closer ties among friends and colleagues. But some who steer clear of the site say it can have the opposite effect of making them feel more, not less, alienated.

“I wasn’t calling my friends anymore,” said Ashleigh Elser, 24, who is in graduate school in Charlottesville, Va. “I was just seeing their pictures and updates and felt like that was really connecting to them.”

To be sure, the Facebook-free life has its disadvantages in an era when people announce all kinds of major life milestones on the Web. Ms. Elser has missed engagements and pictures of new-born babies. But none of that hurt as much as the gap she said her Facebook account had created between her and her closest friends. So she shut it down.

Many of the holdouts mention concerns about privacy. Those who study social networking say this issue boils down to trust. Amanda Lenhart, who directs research on teenagers, children and families at the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said that people who use Facebook tend to have “a general sense of trust in others and trust in institutions.” She added: “Some people make the decision not to use it because they are afraid of what might happen.”

Ms. Lenhart noted that about 16 percent of Americans don’t have cellphones. “There will always be holdouts,” she said.

Facebook executives say they don’t expect everyone in the country to sign up. Instead they are working on ways to keep current users on the site longer, which gives the company more chances to show them ads. And the company’s biggest growth is now in places like Asia and Latin America, where there might actually be people who have not yet heard of Facebook.

“Our goal is to offer people a meaningful, fun and free way to connect with their friends, and we hope that’s appealing to a broad audience,” said Jonathan Thaw, a Facebook spokesman.

But the figures on growth in this country are stark. The number of Americans who visited Facebook grew 10 percent in the year that ended in October — down from 56 percent growth over the previous year, according to comScore, which tracks Internet traffic.

Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner, said this slowdown was not a make-or-break issue ahead of the company’s public offering, which could come in the spring. What does matter, he said, is Facebook’s ability to keep its millions of current users entertained and coming back.

“They’re likely more worried about the novelty factor wearing off,” Mr. Valdes said. “That’s a continual problem that they’re solving, and there are no permanent solutions.”

Erika Gable, 29, who lives in Brooklyn and does public relations for restaurants, never understood the appeal of Facebook in the first place. She says the daily chatter that flows through the site — updates about bad hair days and pictures from dinner — is virtual clutter she doesn’t need in her life.

“If I want to see my fifth cousin’s second baby, I’ll call them,” she said with a laugh.

Ms. Gable is not a Luddite. She has an iPhone and sometimes uses Twitter. But when it comes to creating a profile on the world’s biggest social network, her tolerance reaches its limits.

“I remember having MySpace for a bit and always feeling so weird about seeing other people’s stuff all the time,” she said. “I’m not into it.”

Will Brennan, a 26-year-old Brooklyn resident, said he had “heard too many horror stories” about the privacy pitfalls of Facebook. But he said friends are not always sympathetic to his anti-social-media stance.

“I get asked to sign up at least twice a month,” said Mr. Brennan. “I get harangued for ruining their plans by not being on Facebook.”

And whether there is haranguing involved or not, the rebels say their no-Facebook status tends to be a hot topic of conversation — much as a decision not to own a television might have been in an earlier media era.

“People always raise an eyebrow,” said Chris Munns, 29, who works as a systems administrator in New York. “But my life has gone on just fine without it. I’m not a shut-in. I have friends and quite an enjoyable life in Manhattan, so I can’t say it makes me feel like I’m missing out on life at all.”

But the peer pressure is only going to increase. Susan Etlinger, an analyst at the Altimeter Group, said society was adopting new behaviors and expectations in response to the near-ubiquity of Facebook and other social networks.

“People may start to ask the question that, if you aren’t on social channels, why not? Are you hiding something?” she said. “The norms are shifting.”

This kind of thinking cuts both ways for the Facebook holdouts. Mr. Munns said his dating life had benefited from his lack of an online dossier: “They haven’t had a chance to dig up your entire life on Facebook before you meet.”

But Ms. Gable said such background checks were the one thing she needed Facebook for.

“If I have a crush on a guy, I’ll make my friends look him up for me,” Ms. Gable said. “But that’s as far as it goes.”


New videogames give civil uprising tips

by Staff Writers
Los Angeles (AFP) Dec 5, 2011

The Arab Spring uprisings and Occupy-style US protests have inspired a new genre of serious videogames designed to help activists develop strategy -- all in the safety of cyberspace.

Games like "People Power (The Game of Civil Resistance)" allow would-be protest leaders to build and test their plans for peacefully opposing the police or the government without actually hitting the streets.

The game, which promises "an opportunity to join a community of others who want to learn about civil resistance and nonviolent strategies," was created by York Zimmerman Inc, along with the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

"We certainly did not aim at a mass audience," said Steve York, "People Power" executive producer. "I suppose it's not for everyone, certainly not casual players wanting to be entertained.

"Still, I think it will be interesting and fun for people who enjoy strategy games, even people who like chess," York added from the documentary production company's Washington headquarters.

"And for our primary audience, activists engaged in real-world conflicts for freedom or rights, it would be unhelpful to make a game which is too simple or too easy," he said.

"People Power" is a followup to a game launched in 2006, "A Force More Powerful," when the group realized there there was a need to help activists learn non-violent stategies.

"Most of all, they needed help -- experience, actually -- in developing a strategy. They knew how to choose and make tactics, such as protests, strikes, and boycotts. But they didn't know how to put everything together," said York.

"They sometimes neglected the essentials, like recruiting, organizing, and acquiring funding and resources. Too many of them relied almost exclusively on public protest and street action."

Specialist game designer Greg Costikyan told AFP: "People Power's focus is on building networks across a society in order to enlist support for a dissident movement.

"From a gameplay perspective, that's the most interesting aspect of the design: the use of the social graph as a gameplay mechanic. It does, however, present a very simple model of what is, in reality... very complicated."

Using videogames as a training aid or to share views on current events is not new: for example the Pentagon uses virtual scenarios to help commanders and fighters understand war strategy, while so-called "newsgames" have existed for a decade or more.

It is no surprise then that the generation of activists behind the protests in the Middle East, North Africa and the West should look to videogames to help them develop their plans.

"Occupy The Game," created by activists in Arizona in November, advises players: "Collect money, water and the Constitution. Dodge the tear gas, bean bags and flash grenades thrown by riot police. Dont get arrested!"

"It's time to fix this broken machine," it adds.

National Public Radio (NPR) meawhile last month launched "Occupy America: The Commemorative Game," a very basic online game in which players roll a dice to move from city to city, pitching as many tents as they can.

"Games are another medium in which new technologies can be used to empower people through education and potential fundraising," said Hanni Fakhoury of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which promotes online freedom of expression.

"I think even more interestingly, videogames could raise money in support of protesters," he told AFP, citing "Humble Bundle," which offers games for whatever the player can pay, with money going to the organization they name.

"People may feel more comfortable contributing in these ways, rather than going to a Occupy camp where law enforcement presence is strong," he added.


El poder de les paraules

Article publicat el 19 d'octubre de 2011 al Diari de Girona

Ens adonem del poder que tenen les paraules sobretot quan es genera un conflicte i, especialment, si va en contra dels nostres interessos. Cada cop són més els experts que ens aporten dades. Des de la neurociència s'ha descobert que una mala notícia té cinc vegades més força d'atracció i de ser recordada pel nostre cervell que una de bona. Al llibre "No pienses en un elefante", George Lakoff, professor i investigador de lingüística cognitiva de la Universitat de Califòrnia, explica la importància en la selecció, ús i combinació d'unes paraules que relacionades entre elles i incorporades en un discurs formen un marc cognitiu que ens dota d'una manera d'interpretar la realitat, d'enfocar determinats problemes i d'establir solucions. Amb aquest marc es reforça i es crea un clima d'opinió.

I és que amb les paraules una persona exerceix poder sobre una altra o altres , com ens mostra Steve Lukes a "El poder. Un enfoque radical" de tal manera que la primera és capaç d'afectar els interessos en sentit contrari de la segona.

El millor exemple de l'ús de les paraules per exercir poder han estat els governs del Tripartit. Precisament si per alguna cosa es van caracteritzar els governs del Tripartit és per les declaracions i contradeclaracions dels membres del Govern i dels responsables dels seus respectius partits i grup parlamentaris. En el govern del Tripartit hi parlava tothom i quasi sempre amb la voluntat de crear polèmica i generar conflictes, per afectar en sentit contrari els interessos dels altres.

Però també podem trobar casos interessants més enllà de la política, concretament a la Fórmula 1. Aquest és un esport que mou quantitats ingents de diners, amb una volum molt important de persones en les estructures dels equips, amb multinacionals i empreses amb grans pressupostos al voltant d'aquesta activitat i on les paraules de les persones tenen el poder de generar tensions, disputes i conflictes latents, sobretot interns, entre els responsables de les escuderies i els seus pilots, i que habitualment es manifesten en els resultats de les curses.

Dues situacions recents concretes. El primer cas és del Lewis Hamilton. Durant tota la temporada, aquest pilot ha tingut l'escalf del seu equip i ha obtingut podi en diverses carreres. Aquestes darreres setmanes s'ha especulat que ha rebut ofertes d'altres equips i que podria marxar d'allà on és. Casualment, Hamilton no ha aconseguit cap podi i fa uns dies ocupava la 7a posició al Japó. Per contra, el seu company, Jenson Button, va renovar el seu contracte i va guanyar la cursa. El segon cas és el d'en Jaume Alguersuari, pilot català de l'escuderia Toro Rosso, filial de Red Bull. Aquest pilot ha passat d'estar entre els deu primers i d'assolir una meritòria 7a plaça al Gran Premi de Bèlgica a finalitzar 21è a Italia quinze dies després. Entremig de les dues carreres, Alguersuari va manifestar el seu disgust per la renovació de Mark Weber, segon pilot de Red Bull, ja que no s'havia respectat el compromís comunicat a l'inici de temporada d'oferir el segon volant d'aquesta escuderia al pilot que fes millors resultats a Toro Rosso. Alguersuari va finalitzar 17è al Gran Premi del Japó.

I és que si bé és veritat que parlant la gent s'entén -sempre que se sàpiga i se sigui capaç d'aconseguir aquest resultat-, també queda clar que parlant la gent s'enfada. Precaució, doncs, amb el poder de la les paraules.


Innovating Public Diplomacy For a New Digital World

By Jacob Comenetz
Written on July 27, 2011

A seismic shift is under way at the U.S. Department of State as Foggy Bottom increasingly draws on Sillicon Valley expertise to develop tools and strategies for remaining effective — and relevant — in a rapidly innovating world. Though all sections of the State Department are affected, public diplomacy in particular has had to adapt its perspective and overhaul its outreach to stay current in a constantly evolving technological landscape.

From basic cell phone and Internet access to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, the so-called digital revolution has fundamentally changed the world as we know it — a world where half the population is under the age of 30. Most recently, this digital revolution has sprung up in the Arab world, where it's been a source of inspiration for an agitated citizenry, a source of consternation to authoritarian rulers, and a source of endless debate among scholars and pundits as to what role it's really playing in the ongoing unrest.

More and more, it's also being seen as a source of power for diplomats.

The paradigm of network as power was put forward by international relations scholar Anne-Marie Slaughter, who recently left her post as director of policy planning at the State Department. The notion that we live in a networked world and America's ability to capitalize on this connectivity will impact its global standing remains highly influential among key foreign policy players in the Obama administration (exemplified by the president's first-ever "Twitter town hall" on July 6). As New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote in a recent op-ed, "There are many more networks in our future than treaties."

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has led the push to use technology as a platform for diplomacy as part of what she calls "21st-century statecraft," leveraging traditional foreign policy statecraft with the networks, technologies and demographics of our interconnected world. Put more simply, the State Department needs to innovate to keep up with the high-tech times.

Clinton's two speeches on "Internet freedom," the first in the winter of 2010 and the second during the throes of the Egyptian uprising last February, established the phrase "freedom to connect" as a new tenet of American diplomacy, bolstered by the Obama administration's recent International Strategy for Cyberspace, which lays out U.S. foreign policy priorities in the realm of cyber issues. Clinton has described cyber diplomacy as "a new foreign policy imperative for which the State Department ... will continue to have a leading role."

"We inhabit a moment of uncertainty and possibility that allows for and requires entirely new ways of thinking," said Judith A. McHale, who served as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs from spring 2009 to July 2011, at a June 21 discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations.

McHale focused on the image of an inverted pyramid from a January 2010 New York Times op-ed page, in which U2 singer Bono shared "10 ideas to kick off the new decade." The image represented how the traditional power relationship between the ruler and the ruled has been overturned by recent developments in communications technology. The events in Egypt and the Arab world made it a particularly relevant metaphor, she noted.

Photo: State Department
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveils the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA), which uses mobile cell networks to provide basic health information to vulnerable women around the world — part of Clinton's "21st-century statecraft" vision to transform the U.S. Foreign Service's approach to technology.

"In a world where power and influence truly belongs to the many, we must engage with more people in more places," said McHale. "That is the essential truth of public diplomacy in the Internet age."

Whereas in the past, practitioners of public diplomacy could expect that audiences would come to them (or diplomats would physically go to them), McHale said that today this is no longer the case. In a networked world, the State Department has to deal with "an increasingly savvy and motivated set of influencers on a global stage, each armed with a vast array of affordable, adaptable tools to spread their message." The only solution, she argues, is to become a part of the conversations, to go out and engage with people wherever they may congregate in the real or virtual world. "We must be out there in as many ways as possible and at every hour of every day," she said.

Under Clinton, the State Department has indeed expanded its presence in the virtual world. A glance at State's revamped website reveals links to Facebook and Twitter sites, a Flickr stream of photographs, YouTube-related videos, "Dipnote" blogs and RSS feeds. Beyond gaining a foothold in the cyber world, the State Department is trying to integrate technology into its every facet of its work, rethinking public diplomacy and reinventing outreach efforts such as educational exchanges.

Last month for instance, 37 women from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian territories came to the United States for a five-week mentorship with their American counterparts at 24 U.S.-based technology companies as part of "TechWomen," a State initiative that harnesses the power of technology and international exchange to empower women and girls worldwide.

At the closing luncheon of the TechWomen initiative at the State Department, Clinton outlined some of the other projects in which technology is playing a redefining role. "We're working with farmers in many parts of the world who are now using mobile phones to find the best prices for their crops," she said. "We're working with health professionals so that pregnant women and new mothers can get good advice about how to care for their newborns via text messages. We're working with students so that they can learn English through mobile language apps. And we're working with civil society so that you can use the Internet to uncover corruption and advocate more effectively for political and economic reform."

She added: "Here in the State Department, we do what we call 21st-century statecraft. That's just a fancy way of saying that we are trying to use technology to open up doors that are otherwise closed."

Examples of opening up 21st-century doors abound. In the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) program, students become virtual "eInterns" at the State Department and their work can be done remotely from their dorm rooms, wherever in the world they are. Traveling abroad? The new "Smart Traveler" iPhone application — also compatible with the iPod touch and iPad — features a dashboard of country-by-country information, travel alerts and warnings, maps, U.S. embassy locations, and more.

A recent edition of "Tech@State" — which connects tech innovators and those interested in diplomacy and development to help improve the education, health and welfare of the world's population — explored how "serious gaming" can spark social change. The all-day conference at the George Washington University brought together young entrepreneurs from media ventures such as playmobs, Applications for Good, LOLApps, icivics and Gamification.

The explosion of digital technologies, however, is a double-edged sword, and the movement to tap the power of technology can have stealthy undertones. The U.S. government, beyond the benign arena of public diplomacy, is simultaneously attempting to use various networking technologies to circumvent censorship and maintain its "hard power" edge in cyber space.

In the recent article "U.S. Underwrites Internet Detour Around Censors Abroad," the New York Times documented a widespread U.S. government campaign to deploy "shadow" Internet and cell phone systems to undermine authoritarian governments that block telecommunications.

"The State Department, for example, is financing the creation of stealth wireless networks that would enable activists to communicate outside the reach of governments in countries like Iran, Syria and Libya," wrote James Glanz and John Markoff, citing a $2 million State grant used to develop an innocuous-looking suitcase that can be quickly set up to generate wireless Internet access over a large area.

The reporters also referenced a $50 million State-Pentagon program to create an independent cell phone network in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban — noting that the effort revved up after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

"The Obama administration's initiative is in one sense a new front in a longstanding diplomatic push to defend free speech and nurture democracy. For decades, the United States has sent radio broadcasts into autocratic countries through Voice of America and other means. More recently, Washington has supported the development of software that preserves the anonymity of users in places like China, and training for citizens who want to pass information along the government-owned Internet without getting caught," Glanz and Markoff wrote. "But the latest initiative depends on creating entirely separate pathways for communication. It has brought together an improbable alliance of diplomats and military engineers, young programmers and dissidents from at least a dozen countries, many of whom variously describe the new approach as more audacious and clever and, yes, cooler."

This cool new frontier is also refreshing the face of public diplomacy, which has evolved from traditional democracy-promotion efforts such as the shortwave radio broadcasts of the past to today's webchats on how mobile-money applications can help impoverished nations like Haiti. The Broadcast Board of Governors, responsible for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Voice of America, is still around and finding fertile new ground in nations such as Kyrgyzstan and Iran. But it too is embracing new modes of communitication to compete in an increasingly crowded media space.

And officials such as Public Diplomacy Undersecretary McHale still regularly make old-fashioned visits to personally meet with international audiences, but the World Wide Web has simply made the world of diplomacy that much larger. That's why McHale has been leading the charge to not only redefine public diplomacy, but boost its status in U.S. foreign policy.

"Policymaking and public diplomacy were at one time seen as separate and far from equal disciplines of our foreign policy apparatus, and the organization was structured accordingly," McHale noted in her CFR speech. The process of uniting them began with the abolishment of the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) by President Clinton in 1999, and the integration of its successor into the State Department is vigorously continuing under the present administration, she said.

a6.digital.staff.storyPhoto: State Department
Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale, center, participates in the State Department's first global "Twitter Q&A" on June 29 at the U.S. State Department, whose main official Twitter feed, @StateDept, hosted the session.

One structural change has been the creation of seven new deputy assistant secretaries of state for public diplomacy — six in the regional bureaus, plus one in public affairs for interacting with international media. McHale explained that the reasoning is "to have public diplomacy at the highest level within the State Department participating in and informing our policy decision making."

The State Department — like the U.S. government as a whole — is still trying to navigate this new technological terrain and is continually tweaking its approach. A notice on the main website page for the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) from January of this year, for example, outlines a host of changes based on a comprehensive three-month business review.

Among the changes was the decision to do away with America.gov, a democracy-promotion website created in 2008 for publishing articles and multimedia content on cultural and political topics relating to U.S. foreign interests. Since March 31, the website content has been archived and won't be updated.

In an interview with The Washington Diplomat, IIP Coordinator Dawn McCall explained that the decision to redirect resources from America.gov was the result of moving away from the "self-creation" of products, including "static" websites, toward actively engaging with the communities that State is trying to reach — going out directly to these communities on the web instead of just assuming they'd visit America.gov.

The resources of IIP, which has 280 personnel in Washington and around the world, will now be focused on providing content and support to America's 450 embassy websites around the world. According to a press release, IIP's "expanded use of web-enabled engagement channels demonstrates the Bureau's commitment to shift its strategy from a static web site to seeking audiences proactively on the platforms they frequent in their language."

McCall underscored the importance of engaging publics in their own language as much as possible as part of a genuine two-way conversation. "The underpinning of IIP is engagement, the conversation," she said. "It is education to foreign publics. And we weren't doing that. We weren't engaging with audiences; we were engaging with our own self-created media, and the website was one of them.

"So my thought when I came in here is that it's easy to self-create lots of things, check a box of 'I've written that article, I've made that video and put it on our own property,'" McCall explained. "But my feeling is we have to be more aggressive, and we have to go out and find a place to place that information that we've written, about whatever subject it might be, or to engage in a conversation around that particular subject."

A senior government official who requested anonymity said the decision to discontinue America.gov was a good one, arguing that the website had reinforced an artificial notion of "us" and "them," while its newsroom had taken away valuable resources from the State Department's foreign posts.

The new forms of engagement dictate a change in the type of content being produced as well. In an April 24 post on the Hillicon Valley blog of the Hill newspaper, the only media coverage of the demise of America.gov turned up by a Google search, IIP Principal Deputy Coordinator Duncan MacInnes said the bureau is now "teaching people to write shorter."

"Chunky; chunk the information down," he told the Hill. "We'll produce an article, we'll reduce that to a 200-word piece that can be used for a Facebook page and three or four tweets that can be used on a Twitter feed and instant messaging."

Likewise, McCall pointed to the need to produce different types of content, such as shorter articles and videos for social media platforms. "Obviously, being in an electronic and social media world, we had too many long things we were writing ... not enough of what I would call short features," she said.

"And we are also providing to our posts on a daily basis social media feeds, in [foreign] languages, which gives them some tweets, some Facebook entries, some links to more detailed information. So just taking look at the environment you're operating in and seeing where people are going and what kinds of conversations they're having, and where they're seeking out information."

Even as IIP and the State Department's public diplomacy specialists aim to forge a cutting-edge strategy for social media engagement, some have questioned the idea that the Internet can be an effective tool in international relations or, specifically, promoting democracy abroad.

Evgeny Morozov's 2010 book "The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom" offers one of the most sustained critiques of the viewpoint that "there is no problem that social networking cannot solve."

"Every new article or book about a Twitter Revolution is not a triumph of humanity; it is a triumph of Twitter's marketing department," Morozov wrote. "In fact, Silicon Valley's marketing geniuses may have a strong interest in misleading the public about the similarity between the Cold War and today: The Voice of America and Radio Free Europe still enjoy a lot of goodwill with policymakers, and having Twitter and Facebook be seen as their digital equivalents doesn't hurt their publicity."

On a broader scale, Morozov denounced what he calls the "Internet freedom agenda" — "the notion that technology can succeed in opening up the world where offline efforts have failed," he wrote in the Foreign Policy article "Freedom.gov."

For all the hype and positive headlines, the State Department has yet to produce any tangible successes from its tech-based strategies, Morozov argues, noting that its "enthusiasm for technology has surpassed its understanding of it."

He detailed how two programs — Haystack, a privacy-protecting and censorship-circumventing technology offered to dissidents in Iran, and an anonymous SMS tip line to help Mexicans share tips about drug cartels — both largely failed because they couldn't ensure anonymity, putting the users at even greater risk of exposure.

But the biggest flaw in State's approach, Morozov argues, is that it makes Silicon Valley look like Washington's propaganda tool. "Clinton went wrong from the outset by violating the first rule of promoting Internet freedom: Don't talk about promoting Internet freedom," he wrote. "The State Department's online democratizing efforts have fallen prey to the same problems that plagued Bush's Freedom Agenda. By aligning themselves with Internet companies and organizations, Clinton's digital diplomats have convinced their enemies abroad that Internet freedom is another Trojan horse for American imperialism."

Indeed, companies such Google, Facebook and Twitter — whose ultimate aim is profits not democracy promotion — remain conflicted as to what their responsibilities are in nations such as China and Iran that routinely block the flow of information.

Moreover, just because the world is more interconnected does not mean it's necessarily any less complicated. In an April interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, leading social media expert Clay Shirky criticized the idea that the State Department could effectively use Twitter, which limits tweets to 140 characters, due to a fundamental conflict between the type of transparent communication fostered by the medium and the inherently nuanced nature of international diplomacy.

Shirky argued that foreign policy is simply too prickly an area for effective use of the medium. "What I think is really startling about the State Department's use of Twitter is the way in which it has become painfully obvious that they actually can't say the same thing to everybody," he said. "Even if the State Department had some much more integrated way in which it wanted to use Twitter, foreign policy is the single hardest isse to manage in a democratic government."

Still, the State Department is using a range of 160 different Twitter accounts to manage its "conversation with the world." Tech-savvy internationalists often caution that communication technologies are "agnostic" to political outcomes and can potentially benefit dictators just as much as democratic leaders, but there remains a strong sense that non-engagement carries serious risks.

Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation to Secretary Clinton, offered The Diplomat plenty of arguments to counter those who would discount the utility of Twitter as a diplomatic tool. He described it as a "progressive agent of change" because, like other network technologies, it "tends to distribute power away from large institutions and nation states and toward smaller institutions and individuals by elevating ideas and voices of all kinds."

Ross admited Twitter posed "interesting challenges for large institutions because it is a community that privileges immediacy, interactivity and provocative creativity." But he emphasized the value of the tool, and digital diplomacy more broadly, in allowing the U.S. government to interact with non-traditional audiences. "In short, digital media allows more people to participate in diplomacy," he said.

But despite the growing buzz around Twitter in the United States, Ross also pointed to the perhaps more significant explosive growth of mobile phone use in the developing world, calling it a "game changer" for foreign service officers. In fact, mobile subscriber penetration has reached more than 5 billion people worldwide out of a total world population of 6.9 billion, according to the United Nations, which estimates that by 2012, half the people living in remote areas will have one.

While historians likely debate what role cell phones and social media will have on society far into the future, what is already evident is that they are but one facet of a broader generational shift, enabled by new modes of digital communication, that is upending the relationships between people and governments around the globe.

As these technologies continually reinvent the ways in which people interact, they will fundamentally redefine the practice of diplomacy. And as the juggernaut of cyber connectivity marches forward, diplomats will need to keep pace if they want to connect with the people who find themselves newly empowered in ways never before possible.

About the Author

Jacob Comenetz is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on July 31, 2011



Els partits es proposen disputar la campanya del 20-N a Youtube

La iniciativa de Google vol pal·liar la desafecció que

reflecteixen les enquestes i mobilitzar el vot jove

La web planeja obrir un canal sobre les generals al

qual els usuaris podran enviar vídeos amb preguntes


Iceland’s citizens help draft new constitution via the Internet

In a possible world-first, Iceland’s citizens have helped draft a new constitution via social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. The draft document has been presented to Iceland’s parliamentary speaker.

A council of 25 ordinary, publicly-elected Icelandic citizens presented a draft constitution to Iceland's parliamentary speaker Asta Ragnheidur Johannesdottir on Friday. This may be the first time that citizens have actively contributed suggestions via the Internet and were able to follow progress on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

The constitution of the island nation of 320,000 people was first instituted in 1944. The Icelandic parliament, known as Althingi, agreed in 2010 that the country's citizens should be involved to include their viewpoint, on the core values of the constitution.

The council began work on the draft constitution in April. During this time, its work was posted on the Internet. Icelanders submitted around 1,600 propositions and comments on the council's website.

People pressure

"The reaction from the public was very important," said Salvor Nordal, the head of constitutional council. Most of the suggestions had to do with a revised economic model, following Iceland's economic collapse in 2008. All Iceland's major banks failed at the time, leading the country to the brink of economic collapse.

"This triggered massive social movements, and mounted pressure to revamp the constitution, and for the process to be led by ordinary citizens," said council member Silja Omarsdottir.

Some of the suggestions were extreme or even bizzare. One suggested that Iceland's natural resources were to be designated public property and no private organization or individuals would be permitted to own them or the rights connected to them. Another proposal wanted to "kill all capitalists."

Johannesdottir said the draft would be examined by a parliamentary committee starting on October 1.

Author: Wilhelmina Lyffyt (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

Article interessant.


The UK and digital democracy

by Duncan Smith
Producer, BBC Parliament

Twitter, Facebook, smartphones and iPad-type devices have all contributed to a change in the way many politicians at Westminster work.

The technological revolution has spread visibly into the Commons chamber over the past couple of years, with MPs now allowed to check and send messages using their phones.

In most Commons sessions, including in committees, members can often be seen tapping out messages on their shiny iPhone/Blackberry/Samsung/HTC devices.

The sharp eyed viewer can then check the MP's Twitter feed and see that they were sending a tweet (a message restricted to 140 letters and spaces) letting the world know what's happening and what they think of it.

If you're not going to get called by the Speaker to have your say in Parliament, it can be the next best thing.

The new technology "is exciting and opens up democracy, freedom of expression to loads of people", Conservative backbencher Kris Hopkins said at a Hansard Society event looking at the digital agenda a year on from the general election.

But he added the warning: "They also open up opportunities to nutters to create platforms."

Addressing the meeting Mr Hopkins warned that while MPs welcomed new and innovative ways to communicate with voters - they also received a lot of offensive communications.

It's about liberating all of that data, making it free for people to do creative things with it without the state or market or other people putting constrains on them but giving them the freedom to do something interesting
Julian Huppert Lib Dem MP

He added: "I have to say I have some wonderful constituents who write with amazing issues and dramas and I have got a fantastic office. But I have also got some lunatics out there who think they have the right to abuse me."

Mr Hopkins explained that a lack of control of modern communications led to problems.

"Racists, sexist, homophobic drivel that I get from some members of the public. Some of it is really based around hatred and there is no control of that," he said.

But transparent government is something Mr Hopkins supports.

With reference specifically to money spent by the NHS he said: "We're spending huge amounts of money and we've got to be able to scrutinise it and we've got to make sure individual people are safe from people rooting around just being nosy.

"But when we're spending money like that, it should be transparent."

The idea of more open data was supported by Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, who was also taking part in the debate.

Dr Huppert has nearly 4,000 Twitter followers (people who will automatically see any tweet he sends when they check their Twitter account).

"I find Twitter fantastically useful… it's a very fast way for me to do things," he explained.

Twitter, he said, enabled constituents to find out what meetings he was attending, and to suggest points that could be raised - all in virtual real time.

Voting lobbies

"I want my constituents in four years' time to think I've worked really hard and know what I've done. So people who follow me know the things that I do… it's a very cheap, very easy way to keep that flow going.

He said: "I think Twitter is incredibly powerful as a way of giving people an idea of what some of us do with our lives."

And he said that in general "letting data go free allows people to do some fascinating things with it".

He explained that - unless there were good reasons not to - his view was that government should make all public data free and available for use by the public themselves.

"Ultimately, from a philosophical perspective, it's a great liberal thing to do. It's about liberating all of that data, making it free for people to do creative things with it without the state or market or other people putting constrains on them but giving them the freedom to do something interesting."

One particularly archaic way business is done in the Houses of Parliament was, however, praised by both MPs - despite their enthusiasm for increased electronic democracy: the process of divisions (votes).

Currently MPs have to physically walk through the Aye or the No lobby to register their votes, in a process that takes at least 15 minutes.

"Voting is a very good example of the antiquated way the House of Commons does things," said Mr Huppert.

But that was not a bad thing, he said, because gathering in the division lobbies was often the only time backbench MPs got to meet ministers and allowed a lot of business to get done quickly and quietly.

So even as the new forms of digital communication changes some of the ways of life at Westminster, it seems in some cases at least, some old fashioned face to face networking might yet be best.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2011/06/2011