[At-Large] Social Media and Star Wars #May the force be with you
Salanieta T. Tamanikaiwaimaro
salanieta.tamanikaiwaimaro at gmail.com
Tue Oct 2 21:47:04 UTC 2012
I read this with much interest today.This was the US Under Secretary for
Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Tara Sonenshine's speech.
Remarks for Pacific Council on International Policy
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
As Prepared for Delivery
Los Angeles, CA
October 2, 2012
Thank you Ernie, for that introduction. And my special thanks to the
Pacific Council for hosting me, and the Southern California Gas Company for
sponsoring the luncheon.
Until three weeks ago, I was going to talk to you about social media. The
subtitle to that was “The Arab Spring and Beyond.” But developments since
then have conspired to make us all expand our understandings of the
I mention this to show you how quickly things can change around the world –
in large part because of social media. In fact, I would go so far as to
say, social media has evolved into the most powerful, galvanizing catalyst
of our time – for better and for worse. It is arguably as significant an
event in our shared human history as the industrial revolution.
Let’s be clear: Social media is a neutral entity. It is the human use of it
that matters. It was humans interacting with – or responding to – social
media, that contributed significantly to the Arab Spring, and also to the
violent protests we saw across the region in the past weeks.
To be sure there were other factors: rampant unemployment among young
people; autocratic regimes exploiting their citizens and depriving them of
any political voice; religious animosity; and so forth. But social media
was certainly a leveraging force.
In the first instance, we saw social media as a catalyst for largely
positive change. In Tunisia, a fruit seller immolated himself to protest
the loss of his dignity. Thanks to social media that desperate act led to a
revolution that galvanized the region – and set course for a long and bumpy
road towards democratization.
In the second instance, in the past weeks, we’ve seen violence in many
countries – from Khartoum to Cairo, Tunis, and Benghazi – directed at our
diplomatic Missions and personnel. Many protestors were outraged by a
reprehensible video uploaded here in America. As you know, the United
States Government had nothing to do with the video, and soundly condemned
its message and content.
Many in the region did not understand the freedom of expression that we
have here, and responded with outrage. But, I should note, many more did
not take to the streets. Relatively small crowds in a handful of countries
drew the headlines, rather than the “silent majorities” who stayed home.
Since we are in LA, let me use a movie metaphor – and I don’t think it’s so
off base. Social media is like the Force in “Star Wars.” At almost every
point of the way, the prospect of good or bad looms large. It all depends
on the humans using it. In the case of the Arab Spring, social media was –
largely – a force of good. In the latter case, it went to the dark side.
Today, I want to talk about why it’s so important to use it as a force for
good – and what the State Department is doing to make that happen.
First, let me share a few facts about social media.
Every second, one hour of video is uploaded to YouTube. Every two hours,
that total becomes nine months’ worth. By the end of every single day, the
equivalent of a decade is uploaded every day.
Now listen to this: Every 10 days, a whole century is uploaded.
I am going to quote from an article written by James K. Glassman – one of
my predecessors as Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. In the past four
years, the number of Facebook accounts worldwide has increased sevenfold –
and there has been significant growth in countries critical to U.S.
In Egypt, there were 800,000 Facebook accounts in mid-2008; today, there
are 12 million. In Pakistan, the increase has gone from 250,000 to 7
million; in Turkey, from 3 million to 31 million. Twitter, which barely
existed in 2008, is growing even faster.
These quantum leaps in connection technologies are changing, literally,
everything. People are consuming and producing information in profoundly
different ways. Political and cultural movements have become transnational.
In short, power is decentralizing. More people are playing a role in
international relations than ever.
Secretary Clinton has called upon all of us to adopt and institutionalize
21st Century Statecraft, so we can remain at the forefront of the world’s
most vibrant conversations. By listening and responding through social
media, we can create a vibrant two-way dialogue with the world in ways we
never have before.
But there are challenges. As we have seen, the effect of social media on
human nature – and vice versa – has serious consequences.
In these Internet-influenced times, we are in the business of fighting for
attention – and responding ever more quickly. In the case of Twitter, we
have to do it all in the space of 140 characters [or less.] Imagine how
many things can go wrong with up to seven billion global citizens – all
thumb-texting from the hip. It boggles the mind.
As a government and, frankly, as everyday citizens – we have to fight rumor
with facts, meet tyrannical outbursts with calm arguments about freedom,
and in general, speak to the best in all people. But in the 21st century,
no one is waiting for us to play catch up. We have to respond in real time,
with frequency, at speed – and get it right.
In the case of Libya and its aftermath, we are working to do just that. We
are engaging audiences everywhere about our staunch belief in freedom of
expression – and our unbreakable position on religious tolerance. In fact,
Secretary Clinton just released an important video on Youtube expressing
those ideas. And if I can, I’d like to share the link with everyone.
As President Obama says on that video: in the United States, we see no
contradiction between our strong religious beliefs and our defense of those
who would utter the worst blasphemies against them.
The point is: we need to be out there at the reactive end – presenting our
counter argument to the false, the hateful and the cynical. We do that
through our Center for Strategic Counter Terrorism Communications, where we
actively engage online with targeted groups where not only jihadists – but
the more persuadable audiences are present.
When we enter that digital space and challenge their messages, we force the
uncommitted to pay attention to a different point of view.
We engage proactively, with audiences of young people, women and girls, and
other underserved communities to reinforce their most positive aspirations.
We also work to redirect them from voices that would convert their
frustrations as well as hopes and dreams for negative, extremist purposes.
Recently, I wrote a blog posting on our State Department website. I spoke
about the great social media toolbox that we use in so many ways to reach
U.S. Ambassadors are introducing themselves to citizens through video
messages broadcast online and via local media. They are holding web chats
with the public. And it has become practically unthinkable for them not to
have a Twitter account.
In fact Ambassador Roos’ Twitter feeds during the earthquake disaster in
Japan became one of the most widely used information resources during that
period. And in Madagascar, when rumors were mounting that the former
President had hidden himself in our embassy after he was deposed, our
Embassy’s Twitter feed helped to quash them – and reduce tensions.
We are even connecting with foreign publics in non-permissive environments,
such as Cuba or Iran, through our virtual embassies and SMS text campaigns
The traditional State Department briefing podium is not gone. In fact, it
matters more than ever – and we are giving it new amplification power.
Our State Department social media accounts and those of our embassies
disseminate press briefings, speeches, media notes, videos, and online
We are conducting virtual press conferences with journalists on every
continent through our "LiveAtState" program.
We have U.S. International Media Hubs working across the world to
communicate our messages and help explain U.S. policy.
Beyond the podium, we recognize that speaking with people, and listening to
them, is an integral part of the policy process. That is the essence of
Just three months ago, we had 10 million followers on our various Facebook
pages. We now have 15 million, including the Our Planet page – and pages in
Arabic, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and French. Our Embassy in Pakistan has
over 500,000 Facebook fans, and the Mission uses this platform as part of
its outreach strategy to amplify messages.
So you can see how fast we are growing.
We reach out to hundreds of thousands of people every single day through
exchange programs, roundtables, and outreach to religious scholars and NGO
leaders, businesspeople and entrepreneurs, students and educational
Many people do not realize this, but we have more than 800 “American
Spaces” around the world. These spaces – whether they are corners in
libraries or rooms at binational centers – give foreign citizens the chance
to learn English.
They can meet and interact with American subject-matter experts. They can
find information on study abroad opportunities in the U.S.
All of this can be particularly effective in countries where Internet
access is limited or restricted.
And here in the United States, we hold discussions with students across the
United States through our Foreign Policy Classrooms program.
The result of these efforts is a more informed, more engaged, and global
citizenry, which is vital to the long-terms interests of the United States
from the vantage point of economic prosperity and security.
In short, public diplomacy goes on, despite all the vicissitudes of global
events. We are communicating and engaging every second of every day. As the
pioneer of public diplomacy Edward R. Murrow, once said, we are working to
close that crucial link: the last three feet.
In that spirit – a two-way conversation – I am anxious to hear from you. So
let me sum up what I have said. Social media is a neutral tool. It is a
challenge and an opportunity. If left to irresponsible and cynical voices,
it can create divisions. If used in positive ways, it can bring people
We know which side of that divide we stand on – and we are working every
day to make sure we push that positive agenda.
Let me also say this: government is not the only agent in this. Far from
it. It is people like you: students, global citizens, people of conscience,
who can share positive information and create positive networks.
By working together and using social media as a tool of positive
communication, we can win the battle for the best in humanity.
Right now, and in the near future, I look forward to hearing from all of
you about the ways we can continue to do that.
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Salanieta Tamanikaiwaimaro aka Sala
P.O. Box 17862
Fiji Cell: +679 998 2851
Salanieta Tamanikaiwaimaro aka Sala
P.O. Box 17862
Fiji Cell: +679 998 2851
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