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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted a global town hall on Jan. 29 that advanced the nature of political communication in the digital sphere. New media technologies are revamping public diplomacy through an individualized approach that engages in two-way communication. During her time as Secretary of State, Clinton implemented social media tools that will improve and expand the State Department’s foreign policy initiatives.

The global town hall was broadcasted in six continents, live tweeted in 11 languages, and carried live on YouTube and U.S. embassy websites worldwide. This event is particularly unique because Secretary Clinton engaged journalists and young adults around the world and took questions from Facebook, Twitter and Sina Weibo. She has made technology and communication important tools in diplomacy as compared to four years ago. Diplomats are no longer talking at people, but engaging in two-way conversation.

“There has to be a dialogue and people are hungry for that, young people in particular. They deserve to have their views heard and acted on as we shape the world for the future,” said Secretary Clinton during the global town hall.

This use of “21st century statecraft” redefines diplomacy by connecting with large audiences more efficiently and timely; however, it also calls into question the perceptions of credibility and whether this makes U.S. foreign policy more effective.

Social media does not have the capacity to replace face-to-face diplomacy, but it’s an effective tool used to engage individuals in places where the U.S. does not have a diplomatic presence, such as Iran. The U.S. adds more depth to diplomacy by giving people a direct voice in policy, which leads to greater understanding of individual perspectives and on the ground developments. This active dialogue must be fostered by real-world interactions in order to enhance credibility and analyze the broader picture.

Social media alone cannot suffice for traditional diplomacy because it lacks a broader contextualized frame, which ties into Steinitz and Zarin’s discussion of social media’s utility as a foreign policy tool.  TV, radio and mobile phones remain the dominant forms of communication in the world, especially in developing countries where internet access is often limited (Steinitz and Zarin, 2012). Steinitz and Zarin reason that social media must be accompanied by traditional media sources, such as newspapers and radio to widely disperse information.

However, I believe the importance of traditional media outlets will decrease as demographics change and development increases throughout the world. The use of one-way communication does not allow for mutual understanding, which is seen in the case of Voice of America.  A public diplomacy 2.0 case study by Khatib, Dutton and Thelwall argues that new media allows diplomats to appear more authentic because they are communicate in their own voice.

“It’s an individualized approach that departs from the detached, impersonal approach, a criticism that was often leveled at the State Department in early public diplomacy initiative like Voice of America.” (Khatib, Dutton and Thelwall, 2012)

The nature of the digital sphere allows individuals across the globe to ask questions and seek information more timely, which helps improve views of the U.S. This can create authenticity and improve perceptions of credibility.

The true test of effective foreign policy rests in whether the U.S. can analyze information gathered from new media and translate it into mutually beneficial policies.  This will ultimately change attitudes and develop trust with citizens around the world.

Through new media, Secretary Clinton ushered in a new generation to the State Department’s target audience. She made a logical decision to implement new technologies in public diplomacy with a younger audience in mind, rather than focusing primarily on traditional media. As she leaves office today, Secretary Clinton should be regarded as leader who effectively reshaped the State Department’s role in new media communication.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5E_rS38kClg

References

Khatib, Dutton, and Thelwall. “Public Diplomacy 2.0: A Case Study of the US Digital Outreach Team.” Middle East Journal. 66.3 (2012)

Steinitz and Zarin. “An Initial Look at the Utility of Social Media as a Foreign Policy Tool.” CNA Analysis & Solutions. (2012)

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