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Alec Ross on defining digital diplomacy

How diplomacy can be performed with changing global demographics, with changing power structures, and most prominently with a series of new technological tools: Network Technologies, Public Diplomacy & Social Media, Cairo. Fmr. Senior Advisor for Innovation of the U.S. Dept. of State in conversation with Charlie Firestone of The Aspen Institute.

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  • ohnoes default style avatar for user Norma Alvarez
    This was extremely interesting and left me thinking that the "Citizen to citizen diplomacy" spoken of here, "is messy" being highlighted as an outcome of the unpracticed nature of the citizen conducting diplomatic endeavors is likely what we are experiencing from the Trump Presidential diplomatic practices - they are messy and unknown as to how actually effective toward benefiting this country they are. What would be your guidance when a "citizen to citizen diplomatic process experiences loose ends that cause 'messiness'?
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

I'm Charlie Firestone with the Aspen Institute here with a lacrosse former senior advisor for innovation of the u.s. Department of State today we're discussing the toolbox for American diplomacy and specifically digital diplomacy or a diplomacy our 21st century statecraft so a lacrosse how would you define digital diplomacy I would define digital diplomacy as complementing traditional statecraft with new tools that account for the technologies and demographics of the 21st century you know if you think about statecraft it's something that's almost timeless it's practices go back hundreds if not thousands of years but what's interesting is that the changing nature of how diplomacy can be performed with changing global demographics with changing power structures and most prominently with a series of new technological tools gives us an opportunity to put some new tools in the toolbox of our diplomats it's not something that's designed to replace traditional diplomacy or rather a new set of tools so what are some of those changing global conditions that have fostered the need for new tools when most people talk about the shifting nature of global power they think of it on a geographic basis they say oh yes power shifting from west to east from Europe in the United States to Asia or from the global north to the global South whether that's true or not I think is a debatable proposition and for another lesson but what I do believe is true without condition is that there is a shift in power and the shift in power is from hierarchies to citizens and networks of citizens around the globe and connection technologies technologies that connect people to information in each other facilitate that shifting global power and so the context essentially is you see a diminished role for the nation-state and for centralized power and while that's not total while I'm not saying that Oh governments don't have power anymore what I am saying is that the power of a small number of central hierarchical authorities is less today than it was 30 years and the trend is for its continued depreciation and the increase in power of citizens and networks of citizens so as we see an increase in power of citizens how is that manifested how do we see that evidenced part of what we see our citizens centered political movements taking place very quickly and very powerfully if you think about the revolutions that have taken place in recent years many of them were made possible very quickly in part by technology what are some of the tools that creates the citizen power movement so I think that the single most important element in all of this urn is network technologies you know we now live in a world with three billion people who are connected to the Internet the mean the average amount of time spent online every day for Millennials people between the age of 18 and 30 is eight hours a day in North America and South America seven hours a day in Asia in Central and Eastern Europe in six hours a day in Africa in Western Europe so what we have are these conditions of constant hyper connectedness that's thing one thing two or all of these things that attached to our networks so for example social media social media it has had a fascinating impact on the distribution and exercise of power over the last handful of years in the United States for example I think it contributed to the rise of a more conservative right-wing in a more liberal left wing in addition to social media I think where we are seeing big data capabilities that exists in a commodified way that give individuals and small organizations capabilities that were once reserved for governments and very large corporations so now traditionally the what's called public diplomacy was carried on by governments through broadcast media like The Voice of America that kind of medium so historically public diplomacy was one too many and you know the best known examples from the United States were things like Voice of America radio free europe/radio Asia where you either used a radio station or print publications and something would be written in Washington or in Prague and it would be distributed to hundreds of thousands or hopefully millions of people although the intent really was to influence a small number of influencers today what we have our information environments journalistic environments that are more to weigh in multi way than you know from one to many and so the big change here is that the kinds of communications that were done for example during the cold war with psalmist at the leaflets that were distributed east of the wall into the communist bloc today what is it is analogous to that our blogs and social media and they work very very differently than sort of the traditional engines of public diplomacy and I'm talking about tools in the toolbox some of the social media new media are used to listen as opposed to express how does that fit into the 21st century statecraft see the best use of social media by diplomats is not to talk it's to listen every time I try to coach up a foreign minister or an ambassador I say remember you only have one mouth but you have two ears one of the great failings of the State Department while i was there was the failure to understand what was taking place in Egypt in Tunisia for example at the very beginning of the Arab Spring and the reason is because the traditional interlocutor the traditional counterpart for an ambassador for a diplomat is an elite it's a general it's a CEO it's a government minister and they didn't necessarily understand how to listen using social media to far larger numbers of people and so there are a new set of analytical tools out there that can essentially scrape information out of the conversations that are taking place all over the world right now and it can give an attentive government access to information the likes of which it didn't have before so we seeing a movement not only to a broader public coming in but a broader group of people going out in other words going from public diplomacy to citizen diplomacy is there more people-to-people type activity in what we might call the diplomatic realm there is less public diplomacy being carried out in the form of formal interactions between sovereign nation states and more citizen to citizen diplomacy now citizen to citizen diplomacy is messy you know these are not trained diplomats these are not folks who are necessarily as well steeped in it country's culture or history as everyday citizens are but it can ultimately be more effective and so one of the things that I saw a lot when I was at the State Department is that people around the world for example loved America and Americans but not the American government and so in cases like this Susan diplomacy can be the most effective form of diplomacy you know I can't tell you how many times I would be in Pakistan or on the west bank or you know someplace where there was a very high level of antagonism towards the American government where I would talk to somebody and they would say I love your country but I hate your government and in places like that and these tend to be places where diplomacy is most needed citizen to citizen diplomacy can be a very powerful complement to the formal interactions between governments but can't this be reversed as well we have a reverend who says burn a koran day or some other activity of just a citizen out there who takes a position quite contrary to what the american physician american government position might be yeah so this is why I don't take a utopian view of these tools in part because these digital tools are value neutral they take on the values and intentions of the people who use them so while some segments of American society might want stronger relations between say America and Pakistan others might view Pakistanis as inherently evil awful people and want to do anything they can to antagonize them and so these in the same way in which these two'll give capabilities for productive dialogue they can also be used to royal relationships between states I saw this when I was at the State Department with the production of the innocence of Muslims video after the production of you know this sort of amateurish video a hundred and twenty-five thousand protesters hit the street in Karachi a hundred thousand protesters hit the street in Islamabad and more than a dozen people ended up dead the embassy was over running Cairo and so we could see in this case that these tools don't just amplify productive voices they can also create diplomatic tornadoes and there was a lot of work that had to be done to unwind the damage from that video