Public Diplomacy in Web 2.0

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.

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2 thoughts on “Public Diplomacy in Web 2.0

  1. I enjoyed your blog post, particularly your analysis of the potential for ShareAmerica to function as a public forum based on its technological affordances, or lack thereof. I would agree that the fact that there is no comment function creates a one-way conversation, which in terms reads as a particular political value. You might be interested to look at my post about the political values embedded within platforms and their unique array of affordances, which summarizes’ AU professor Deen Freelon’s innovative work on the topic. I don’t think ShareAmerica really fits on the a “democratic” spectrum of platforms, but then again you might ask, “should it?” Is it possible for a country to have a strong internal democracy while simultaneously being closed to comment from those outside our borders? Is Public Diplomacy really about democracy?

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  2. Your post is precisely what I mentioned in my prior posts to Spencer and Fiona. I feel Share America is out-of-touch with real situations going on with our country and shows a certain front to foreign nations, without giving users access to comment.

    As Elsa just wrote, she does have a point that Public Diplomacy does not have to be about Democracy. But how easy is it that we Americans point faults in foreign policies and programs, especially how it is presented. For example, in our Propaganda class with Prof. Simpson, he presented an article to us that gave a glowing review of a Russian Space program and how Americans are reacting positively to its implementation. However, he then showed that above the article, it was a paid advertisement submitted by the Russian Gazette, made to look like an actual piece of journalism in the Washington Post. This was considered propaganda when discussed in class as it gave faulty reasoning from its main source (the “paid advertisement from Russian Gazette” was in very small print), and tried to appeal to American audiences when it’s really a “hidden” message from Moscow.

    If the Russian Gazette example was enough to be considered propaganda, than one could argue the same thing with Share America. The website clearly has a bias on what is posted of its own country, and is only critical of other nations. While Democracy doesn’t necessarily define diplomacy, giving people an open perspective to connect with one another is truly the basis of what PUBLIC Diplomacy should be all about.

    – Allan R.

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