Can the State Department Facebook?
Interesting interview at CFR.org on public diplomacy and the use of social networking with Elliot Schrage, formerly of Google, now of Facebook (and author of a perceptive 2004 study on workplace codes of conduct). No surpise, the State Department has a Facebook page. Schrage has this to say about how governments should put these tools to work:
The challenge is, how do we move the dialogue away from a government-to-government dialogue, and more toward engaging citizens on the ground. I don’t think the United States has a particularly strong track record of doing that successfully. But I would say, based on my conversations with people in the new administration, they have a sensitivity to these issues and to [social media] as a priority like no other administration has had certainly since the dawn of the Internet era. So you’re going to see much more innovation, much more creativity. We have not yet designed the Internet equivalent, or the social networking equivalent, of Voice of America [the official radio and television broadcasting service of the U.S. government]. Voice of America was, for its time, an incredibly powerful tool. Incredibly powerful. But we have not yet come up with the tools and techniques for the social networking era that engage people in a way that the Voice of America really couldn’t, because it was constrained by being a one-way media.
Count me a skeptic. The VOA in its ideal applications enjoyed a monopoly on information (at least when broadcasting to media-repressed societies), with all its advantages — even if it was a “one-way media” (something I bet they’re nostalgic for at State!). That’s obviously not going to be replicated in the New World. (Insurgencies and other nongovernmental entities, by contrast, can use it to their advantage — it is in that sense a leveler.) Facebook users seem to be saying as much: State has a paltry 6000 “fans”, many fewer than does a mediocre baseball team across the Anacostia River. Britney Spears has almost a million and a half.