Another Response to Digital Divide: “Global Citizens We Value Your Opinions”

Thanks. This is very thought provoking and makes me think even more about what I originally wrote. I appreciate being included in this piece.

Alan W. Silberberg

Re blogged from the:

The Layalina Review
VOL. VI NO. 12, June 4-June 17, 2010

“Global Citizens, We Value Your Opinion”

Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal Palmor held a live internet video conference with members of the Facebook group “Gaza Flotilla – the world should know the truth,” to disseminate Israel’s point of view on the Gaza-bound Flotilla raid, reports Gil Ronen for Arutz Sheva.

Approximately 115,000 members of the pro-Israel group have attempted to convey Israeli’s stance on the issue in an effort to “support, encourage and supply accurate information” to pro-Israel activists and the rest of the world on the social networking site. Palmor was also due to comment on Israel’s public diplomacy situation.

The Facebook group’s members participated in the conference by asking questions and providing their opinions on the flotilla clash.

The conference illustrates how governments are resorting to the internet for diplomatic purposes. In America, the officials working under the Obama administration tout the internet and social networks as powerful tools to underpin the administration’s public diplomacy efforts. “[Social networks are] an incredible resource that needs to be harnessed,” said Jared Cohen during a lecture sponsored by Ogilvy Public Relations, reports the Associated Press.

Cohen, a member of Secretary of State Clinton’s policy planning staff, described how he saw the power of social media in affecting Iran. While visiting an Iranian marketplace, Cohen witnessed exchange of information among the youth through mobile devices. According to the Associated Press, Cohen advised that “diplomats with decades of experience and knowledge need to work with the under-30 age group that is deftly using Internet-based communication technology.”

Vinton Cerf, vice president for Google, commented that the Obama administration is “the first administration I can think of that has engaged this deeply the use of technology in the State Department.”
Among other initiatives, the State Department launched the Virtual Student Foreign Service program and a new social website called “Opinion Space.” Despite the government’s use of the internet as a diplomacy tool, Helle Dale at the Heritage Foundation’s blog The Foundry, believes that the latest venture is a waste of valuable resources.

“The Internet is a great public diplomacy tool, but only when used as part of a strategy support [sic] US policy goals such as democracy, freedom and human rights,” Dale maintains.

Opinion Space, which places participants on a “global opinion map,” has about 4,000 users globally, according to the State Department’s New Media Director, Katie Dowd.

Dale questions the effectiveness and use of the website, arguing that it is unclear whether the information gathered on the site will be used to inform public diplomacy techniques. Helle Dale concludes that “devoting US resources and ingenuity to helping its citizens should be the focus of our public diplomacy, not gimmicky new State Department websites.”

Alan W. Silberberg on The Huffington Post discusses the digital divide that is growing, excluding an increasing number of people.

“The Digital Divide is actually becoming more serious,” he writes. Although the internet is growing and evolving at a rapid pace, people without the basics do not reap the benefits of technology. Silberberg states that the basics are: a cellular or wireless phone, easy internet access and a working computer.

Among other recommendations, Silberberg advises, “No Government 2.0 program should be funded without addressing the digital divide access issues, or at least examining alternative information distribution methods.” He also maintains that industrialized nations should recycle electronics and other devices to provide access to low income and rural households.

For O’Reilly Radar, Alex Howard shadowed Alec J. Ross, the US Secretary of State’s Senior Advisor for Innovation. According to Howard, Ross addresses “some of the State Department’s greatest challenges, including Internet freedom, human trafficking and civic empowerment abroad.”

Ross believes that technology has the capacity to change the world. “One of the things about technology is that it takes a top-down world and changes it,” he stated. “The traditional command and control structure of the 20th Century has a much more tenuous hold on society.”

Alec J. Ross highlighted the importance of initiative and tools in successful public diplomacy campaigns. “A lot of Gov 2.0 tools are great for transparency that allow citizens to become better informed and take actions in their own interest,” he stated.

“These same kinds of tools can be used to empower citizens who have historically been intimidated by cartels, or who are left powerless in the face of bad actors. That can become expressed through the collective pressure that comes through the power of these tools and the ability to name names.”

Follow Alan W. Silberberg on Twitter

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