The State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) focuses on “people-to-people” conversations and engaging foreign audiences, so they can connect and learn about the United States. According to the website, “IIP works in between the news of the day and the experience of a lifetime.” With that intangible workspace in mind, it is interesting to look at the IIP’s newly launched ShareAmerica, a website optimized for sharing its content on social media networks (Facebook and Twitter) and on mobile devices. The site design is fairly simple and offers a variety of content from videos, short uplifting profiles and brief articles peppered with external links. It includes serious subjects like HIV/AIDS to glib topics like how to get 1,000 followers on social media. In keeping with its intent to have global visitors “connect with America” through policy, culture, values and English language learning, the site has 17 subject themes and available in seven languages.
Similar to Upworthy in its design, variety of information and hopes of content going viral, the site is geared toward quickly dispersing short messages versus inciting lasting, substantial conversations. While ShareAmerica says it aims to “spark discussion and debate on important topics,” the information flow is one way. Aside from the ability to suggest stories and propagate content, there is no way to interact with “America” as none of the pieces allow user comments. True to its name, visitors are simply sharing (curated pieces) of America. Unlike Merlyna Lim’s article that examines how “social media can represent tools and spaces, which various communication networks make up a social movement emerge, connect collapse and expand,” this site is clearly not meant to create a public forum. Instead, it offers a subtle way for bits of American culture to innocuously travel across global networks at the grassroots level. It could possibly fit with Joseph Nye’s idea of soft power in that it is attempting to shape a context through inspiring ideas and dreams of what America is. Nothing socially controversial (gay marriage, race, etc.) is posted and the tone is kept optimistically upbeat. Because public diplomacy seems difficult to oftentimes measure, an interesting aspect about the site is its ability to provide data by tracking the number of shares for each theme and looking at its sharers’ demographics.