From Helle Dale at The Heritage Foundation, Public Diplomacy 2.0: Where the U.S. Government Meets “New Media”:
Public diplomacy and strategic communications experts within the U.S. government are exploring the potential of the new social media in the effort to win hearts and minds abroad, especially in the Muslim world where today’s war of ideas is being fought. Enemies of the United States are already expert in using these low-cost outreach tools that can connect thousands, potentially even millions, at the touch of a computer key or cell phone button. As public affairs blogger Matt Armstrong writes,
In this age of mass information and precision guided media, everyone from political candidates to terrorists must instantly and continuously interact with and influence audiences in order to be relevant and competitive. Ignoring the utility of social media is tantamount to surrendering the high ground in the enduring battle to influence minds around the world.
… When employed strategically, social-networking sites clearly offer potential for U.S. public diplomacy to reach younger, tech-savvy audiences around the world. Social-networking sites can also be cost-effective and run with relatively low overhead. Yet, nothing can replace the power of person-to-person contact and individual exposure to American culture. Furthermore, the unevenness of global technological progress means that a variety of media will remain critical to spreading the U.S. message. As part of a clear and calibrated U.S. government communications strategy, however, Public Diplomacy 2.0 can be a valuable tool.
I would add that there is the convergence of new and old media into Now Media makes intense focus on “new media” channels as distracting and potentially dangerous. As Helle Dale notes, person to person contact remains essential. Even in America’s social media world, studies indicate online relationships that have by real world connections are far stronger than those without.
A powerful, important, and too often ignored is the use of the online media by our adversaries. We require culturally aware, linguistically capable actors in the same languages and cultures we are operating in the “meat space.” What you see in your English-language search of Google or YouTube is not the same list as an Arabic-language search using the same .com site. How many know that? This is a far more dangerous world than many realize. Helle Dale’s recommendations are valid but are ultimately a small part of the solution. The institutional dysfunction across Government and the extreme lack of awareness of the requirements in both the executive and legislative branches overshadow any advantage of these recommendations. We have surrendered primary battlegrounds in the struggle for minds and wills. It is time to reverse this and answer counter the highly damaging propaganda of our adversaries.