On Tuesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her second speech on internet freedom and social media, two subjects for which she is a strong advocate. She said the internet has become the world’s “town square, classroom, marketplace, coffee house and nightclub”.
Today, I attended Facebook’s DC Live Event: Social Media and the World Stage. The event included a live chat with Alec Ross (pictured below to the right), Senior Adviser on Innovation to the Secretary of State, and Daniel Baer (to the left), Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. Baer and Ross discussed how people around the world have been empowered by social media. Below are some key questions and points of the chat:
How have things changed?
The State Department is adopting a less top down approach. “21st century is terrible time to be a control freak.” The conversation is already going on online so the
government is able to listen to people through social media and respond accordingly.
What’s the policy for State department employees on social media?
According to Baer and Ross there is a very permissive policy. “We don’t restrict what people can communicate, but that’s not a licence to be stupid.” Employees are held to the same standard as they would be if they were on TV. It’s hard to make distinction between personal and professional life online, but it is something professionals must face.
What impact did social media have in recent events in Egypt?
Social media was responsible for 3 specific things in this situation:
1. Social media allowed for accelerated movement making. What would have taken years before this technology happened at a very fast pace
2. Connections made online are more likely to connect people offline. Social media took weak ties and make strong ties. It allowed people to organize gatherings.
3. Social Media distributes leadership. There were hundreds and thousands of leaders in Tunisia via social media.
How does Secretary Clinton use social media?
While you won’t find Hillary Clinton on Twitter or having afternoon Facebook chats with the President, she understands how social media works within a foreign policy context. She has unleashed her staff when it comes to internet freedom and is affectionately called the “God Mother of 21st Century State Craft.” She didn’t grow up with it, more than half of the 7 billion people on the planet are under 30 and grew up using social media. If the government doesn’t utilize it, they will get left behind.
All in all the event was very informative. I enjoyed seeing how my government supports social media and recognizes it as a change agent in the world today. It’s also nice to see a government agency giving social media freedom to feds.