Connection technologies as a tool of public diplomacy

“The 21st century is a terrible time to be a control freak,” quipped Jared Cohen, a technology and social networking advisor on the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, at panel discussion held Tuesday at CSIS. Governments cannot control the spread of "connection technologies," Cohen said, but in his view, the U.S. government should work to influence and shape both the development of these technologies and the messages conveyed on them.

The panel--titled “Public Diplomacy and Foreign Policy in the Technology Age,” moderated by Bob Schieffer, and also featuring former Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs James Glassman--played host to a broad ranging discussion of connection technologies in foreign policy and public diplomacy, with specific attention paid to the role of Twitter and YouTube in the Green Revolution in Iran, internet freedom in Russia and China, and the Google-China issue.

In addition, a discussion centered on what the goal for the U.S. government should be in its utilization of connection technologies, in a public diplomacy sense. Should the United States attempt to disseminate a specific, crafted message? Or rather, should it utilize the technology to both facilitate conversations and empower citizens to create change? For his part, Cohen believes that control is simply not possible, and that making technology available as a tool of empowerment is what is most essential: “It’s not about the technologies; it’s about the people behind them and their message,” Cohen said.

Glassman agreed, noting the creation of the State Department’s own social networking site, Exchanges Connect. He told of how creating a space within a government website where the content could not be controlled was “tough for the lawyers to swallow.” But ultimately, all involved, Glassman said, came to realize that the power of a social networking site comes not in controlling the message or content, but in providing a platform for conversation to flourish and connections to be made.

“Technology is a tool, and it happens to be a really good tool for public diplomacy,” Glassman said. “The conversation itself is important.”

Full video of the panel is available on the CSIS website and below.


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