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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

Discussions on Digital Diplomacy

imageThe July/August issue of PDiN Monitor, the electronic review of public diplomacy in the news by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy at the Annenberg School, focuses on the subject of Digital Diplomacy.

In “Beyond the Blackberry Ban: Realpolitik and the Negotiation of Digital Rights,” Shawn Powers looks at the Blackberry data network as a component of the global communications grid called for by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In doing so, Shawn asks,

…shouldn’t we be talking about the importance of maintaining the sanctity of such a network, and even thinking through how to get more secure, BlackBerry devices in the hands of civil society advocates and leaders in the Middle East? Or would such a strategy backfire, similar to the way U.S. arms sales to mujahidin during the Cold War continue to thwart American policy in Afghanistan today? …

But what would a world with ubiquitous secure, mobile communications actually look like? Would democracy and civil society flourish, or would hateful and violent groups be better able to organize and plan their terrorizing of society?

While I disagree with Shawn’s characterization of Wikileaks in his article as an organization “whose primary mission is to enhance democratic deliberations and accountability through transparency”, his points about the tension between the freedom and security of information exchange are valuable fodder for a serious discussion on the issue.

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State of the Internet

You’ve seen Did You Know 4.0, the update to Shift Happens that focuses on the changing media landscape, including convergence and technology. The convergence readers of this blog will appreciate is what I call “Now Media“: the reality that information influences, not platforms. Information is increasingly platform independent and platform jumping. Each mode of consumption will have certain advantages and disadvantages over other modes. Further, the consumption channel may not be the same as the delivery channel. This all conspires against the antiquated terms “new media” and “old media” that describe the conflict of broadcast/print and the Internet. As I often ask in my presentations, seminars, and classes: When you or your principal speaks to the BBC or The New York Times, do you specify the comments are only for the broadcast or print edition? Is the Associated Press new media when you get it via Yahoo and old media when you read it in The Washington Post?

Although it is not always the “last three feet” between an event and a consumer (which may or may not be the media itself), the Internet is instrumental in how information is distributed, modified, and consumed. This latest video entitled “The State of the Internet” by Jess3 compliments Did You Know by focusing on the “master” medium and online social networking.

See also:

  • MountainRunner Institute periodically hosts Now Media seminars (and soon workshops). These events ground participants in the opportunities and threats in the modern information and physical environment of global communication and dynamic ‘diasporas’ (what I call “hyphens to commas”). In February and June, we convened a seminar in Washington, DC (http://nowmedia.eventbrite.com). In August, we convened a seminar in the San Antonio area. In October, we’ll hold it in Atlanta and we’re planning another event, location TBD. Email me for more information. An information page will be available soon.

The Small World of Wikileaks, Part 1 – What might this have to do with Public Diplomacy?

By Ali Fisher

The now familiar story of the release of documents by Wikileaks and reported by the New York Times, The Guardian and Der Spiegel has been analysed from numerous angles considering potential impact on reputation and the relationship between digital and the more traditional print media.

The experience of Wikileaks has much in common with those engaged in Public Diplomacy and seeking to measure their attempts to disperse information on specific issues. Examining Wikileaks provides a case study of an attempt to map a network of influence and identify key nodes within that network.

The first step is to establish a baseline, which this post will cover, using data from June (prior to the release of documents). The increasing notoriety of Wikileaks during June was paralleled by increasing problems including the degradation and eventual collapse of the secure submission process, as reported by Ryan Singel. These technical issues and time spent dealing with the ripple effect from the arrest of Bradley Manning had the potential to interfere with the core work of Wikileaks ensuring information can reach a public audience.

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An opportunity to de-militarize public diplomacy

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Last week, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) convened the third annual Magharebia.com Writers Workshop. The workshop is a professional development course for new and established writers for AFRICOM’s Maghreb-centered news and information website, www.Magharebia.com. According to AFRICOM public affairs, the event “introduced new media tools and technologies while stressing the importance of sound journalistic principles for writing, blogging and podcasting.”

The website www.Magharebia.com was started in 2005 by U.S. European Command (EUCOM) to “reach out to a younger audience in the North Africa region with news, sports, entertainment, and current affairs about the Maghreb in English, French and Arabic.” It is similar to EUCOM’s other sponsored news and information website, www.SETimes.com, “the news and views of Southeast Europe.”

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Call for Papers: 6th International Conference on Information Warfare and Security

A call for papers:

Information warfare, cyber-operations, and information security are areas of specialized research covering multiple areas of expertise. This conference is designed to bring together conceptualists, operators, and researchers to exchange and explore ideas covering these areas. Past conferences have attracted participants from all over the globe, providing for a rich environment of idea exchange.

What: 6th International Conference on Information Warfare and Security
When: 17-18 March 2011
Where: The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Conference Chair: Dr. Julie Ryan, The George Washington University, Washington, DC, USA

Program Chair: Dr. Edwin Leigh Armistead, Edith Cowan University, Australia

Keynote Speaker: Matthew A. Stern, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, USA

Details can be found at the event’s website.

Senate to define who is a journalist?

Charlie Savage reports at The New York Times that Democratic Senators proposed legislation to legislatively define who is a “journalist.” Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) drafted an amendment, likely to the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2009″ (S. 448), that would apply the “media shield” to protect sources only to “traditional news-gathering activities and not to web sites that serve as a conduit for the mass dissemination of secret documents.

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Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans

VOA_stamp_1967My latest op-ed on the conceptually and practically out-of-date "firewall" of the Smith-Mundt Act is up at World Politics Review: Reforming Smith-Mundt: Making American Public Diplomacy Safe for Americans. The complete article is available without a subscription.

American public diplomacy has been the subject of many reports and much discussion over the past few years. But one rarely examined element is the true impact of the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which for all practical purposes labels U.S. public diplomacy and government broadcasting as propaganda. The law imposes a geographic segregation of audiences between those inside the U.S. and those outside it, based on the fear that content aimed at audiences abroad might "spill over" into the U.S. This not only shows a lack of confidence and understanding of U.S. public diplomacy and international broadcasting, it also ignores the ways in which information and people now move across porous, often non-existent borders with incredible speed and ease, to both create and empower dynamic diasporas.

The impact of the "firewall" created by Smith-Mundt between domestic and foreign audiences is profound and often ignored. Ask a citizen of any other democracy what they think about this firewall and you’re likely to get a blank, confused stare: Why — and how — would such a thing exist? No other country, except perhaps North Korea and China, prevents its own people from knowing what is said and done in their name. …

The rest at World Politics Review and comment there or here.

It is time this wall, one of the last two remaining walls of the Cold War, the other being the Korean DMZ, came down. If we insist on keeping this wall, a completely un-American and naive approach to global affairs, should Wikileaks be enlisted to let people within the US borders know what its government is doing with its money and in its name?

See also:

  • Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010 (Updated) on the Thornberry-Smith legislation now pending in Congress
  • Recalling the 2009 Smith-Mundt Symposium on the January 2009 event on US public diplomacy
  • …and the only-somewhat tongue in cheek remark by PJ Crowley, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, at the daily briefing of 27 July 2010. While announcing the new Coordinator of IIP in his opening remarks, Matt Lee from the AP (also only somewhat tongue-in-check) asks whether PJ can talk about this "under the provisions of Smith-Mundt?" PJ’s response: "Yes. I, as the head of Public Affairs, can communicate both domestically and internationally. IIP, on the other hand, can only communicate outside the borders of the United States."

Smith-Mundt in CQ Weekly

imageCQ Weekly, a publication covering Capitol Hill, ran a story by Tim Starks titled “For Their Ears Only” on the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2010, co-sponsored by Congressmen “Mac” Thornberry (R-TX) and Adam Smith (D-WA).

A few select quotes from the article are below. To read the whole article, you’ll have to visit the CQ website.

“The central problem is that the law has not kept up with changes in technology,” said William M. ‘Mac’ Thornberry, a Texas Republican who is sponsoring the new legislation with Washington Democrat Adam Smith. “Whether it is the Internet, the most obvious example, or even satellite television broadcasts, it becomes extremely difficult to say this broadcast is not only intended for foreign audiences but will only go to foreign audiences.”

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