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Is Social Media your town square, classroom, coffee house or Nightclub?

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.

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Daniel Bevarly

Shannon – Thank you for posting. This is unique as your post highlights the government and citizens use of social-media that does
not include data, but rather is based solely on dialog. So much of the
discussion of Gov 2.0 has centered on making data open and available. While that is part of the important equation,
it is also the low-hanging fruit and the less dynamic of the two (data and

We need to continue to be mindful to not put the cart before the horse and enable more online discussion to occur between and among
government and citizens. In the end, it
will be communication, not documentation that will help us close the huge gap that
exists between citizens and their government.

Allen Sheaprd

Social media is my coffee house. Its where friends and strangers help me find new ideas and events. I can express my own thoughts. Best of all – get a reaction to those thoughts.

Interesting you mentioned “Night club” as that became a part of “Second Life” as well.

Class romm does not fit for wikiepedia, manuals on line and blogs teach me a great deal. Yes there is so much I learn here. Its just better to have a reference source to quote.

Lastly – town square? That would be nice. Its not the care. Most people, IMO, come to the internet looking for common interests. Even here on GovLoop we divide ourselves into groups based on interest – not cities or towns. Countries – a few but even fewer states or cities/towns. Yes DC is an exception to the rule.

Could we do that? Is your idea good? Yes. IMO, it all starts with content. Help people enjoy coming to the town square else they will not enjoy it. Simple? Yes and IMO overlooked. People do not go to a site simply because its important.

Jay S. Daughtry, ChatterBachs

Shannon, I had not heard this quote from Secretary Clinton. Thanks for providing this informative recap of the live chat. For me I would have to say that social media is mostly my classroom (I’m a former teacher; what can I say?) and partially my coffee house. I’ve found it particularly fascinating to see how conversations and relationships can move from offline to online or online to offline and perhaps back again.

Darrel W. Cole

Nice summary Shannon and good add on from Jay below. The disconnect is that the state and local govs are still struggling to utilize social media as their coffeehouse. As someone who does PR (including social media) for government projects there was first the grassroots effort to utilize social media tools in government, and then with the Obama White House, a move from on high, like the State Department, for open government and gov 2.0. The entities in the middle are still struggling to catch up. It’s happening, and I am seeing it slowly, with the govs and projects I work on, but it’s taking time.

As far as the coffeehouse, yes, social media has truly revived my network for my own personal social media use like here on GovLoop. As far as the projects I do, yes, our social media sites are becoming our largest “stakeholders.” One Facebook page for a project has 1,300 followers and believe me when several of them make a comment on one item, it gets them all galvanized, and we take actions. That’s an incredible tool for the public to have their voices heard, something not available years ago. The more governments of all shapes and sizes realize this, the better off they will be.