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Albright on 21st century technology and American diplomacy

How social media affects the tools of diplomacy: Arab Spring, Fall of Communism, Eastern Europe: 1989, ISIL.  Fmr. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in conversation with Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute.

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  • old spice man green style avatar for user Don Spence
    How would Secretary Albright square her contention that there is a significant economic component to the Arab Spring uprisings with the significant proportion (based on the information I've seen) of the people involved in the movements who desire a theocratic state? There seems to be an element of lack of economic prosperity and progress associated with a country governed by theocrats (unless you have bucketloads of oil). The desire for an Islamic state governed by Shariah law seems to be in conflict with the economic advances that the secretary credits for much of the oomph behind the Arab Spring. I am not judging; I'd just like to hear what her view might be.

    Edit - after finishing the video, I'd also like to ask if the theocratic supporters are not necessarily in the Arab Spring crowds, but are (as Secretary Albright described the Muslim Brotherhood) relatively well organized in the background, and more prepared to step forward than the leaderless seekers of democracy and greater economic equality?
    (4 votes)
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Video transcript

I'm Walter Isaacson of the Aspen Institute i'm here with madeleine albright talking about the toolbox of American diplomacy how has it changed in the 21st century with Twitter and Facebook and social media and the speed of technology what's that done I think it has had a huge effect in terms of each of the tools has to adapt to it in some way so let's take diplomacy we're often the media has the information long before the diplomats can get the information back to their nation's capital and the nation's capital can give them instructions so all of a sudden there's for instance even when I was secretary and there's an operation center in the State Department our people there would be watching CNN because the ambassador's couldn't get the information back fast enough so the rapidity of it and the necessity to respond rapidly when in fact it's sometimes I to have a rule which when I said the first information is always wrong but you are immediately kind of forced to say something so it has affected diplomacy it has affected also the economic tools because of the interdependence that we talked about I think that it's harder to get sanctions when your own country is affected so much and also when the division of who has resources and who does it's gotten more complicated I think what extent do you think that the Arab Spring was driven by things like Facebook and Twitter I think to a great extent well first of all I do think the following thing that the there are fewer poor people in the world today in absolute numbers partially because of what the Chinese have done but the gap between the rich and the poor have has widened and as a result of social media and information the porno at the rich have and one of the issues about the Arab Spring was a lack of jobs and economic dignity and then knowing that other people actually had jobs and we're living a life so there was that economic disparity was there and the capability then of transmitting information back and forth so I do think I mean I do think there is a basis that the Arab Spring was an economic issue as well as a desire to have some kind of role in decision making but mostly it had to do I think with economic dignity and jobs and social media spread the news on it there were immolations across North Africa and people began to know about that when the communism was falling in Eastern Europe and the revolutions of 1989 it was done partly by technology because satellite TV and faxes played a role in Poland and Czechoslovakia but there were also real people who had stood on the gates of the gdansk shipyard I've been at the barricades are gone to jail so there was a leadership ready to take over after those revolutions do you think the Twitter and Facebook revolutions are it's easier to start something through social media but not to create the leadership structure I think that's right but let me go back because you raised something very important there is some form of information that's been going on for a long time go back to Benjamin Franklin it isn't as if information transmittal is is a brand new thing so in Poland during the Solidarity period what happened was left Valenza the leader would go and speak at a factory and they recorded it on a cassette and then they sent the cassette to another factory so there there was some form of social media if you want to put it that way at that time the thing that social media has done is not only not have a leader it has also as I've talked about this disaggregated voices you don't even need a movement like solidarity or like in the Czech Republic civic forum where there was a group of people that got together what social media has done is disaggregated all the voices and so one of the things for instance in Egypt was the people in Tahrir Square all had their own way of talking where the Muslim Brotherhood was already organized and so partially what happened was there wasn't a counter leader to the Muslim Brotherhood and so they are somewhat leaderless and one of the things I did steal the statement from somebody but it works very well is that people are talking to their governments on 21st century technology the government hears them on 20th century technology and is giving 19th century answers and so there is no faith in institutions at this point and there aren't the leaders that you're talking about do you think that's partly because social networks in the Internet age or inherently decentralized and so you don't have as you did in 1989 a vaclav havel who becomes a leader or elec malinza it becomes a leader in Poland yes they are decentralized and so I mean there's something very democratic about that if you think about it but the fact that there's no organizational structure to it is pretty hard and the part that I'm now trying to struggle with is that while there are those that are entire square that have felt successful in terms of what they've accomplished there is a certain chaotic aspect to it and so the older person who is living in some crummy place in Cairo and can't get to a stall in the market thinks I don't need all these people out there screaming entire square I want some order which then leads to the fact that you have CC come in and so there is this question about chaos vs order and then who runs the order and groups like ISIL have been able to very effectively use social media to get their message out what do we need to do in the West to counteract that well first of all I think we need to get our social media more mobilised but then and this is the part that is difficult is that we need to figure out what is the environment that has created people who want to cut other people's heads off or basically control them in some way and therefore what we need to go back to trying to figure out what tools to use to change the environment and that has a lot to do with economic opportunity and education and Leadership and that's going to take a look I'm with Madeleine Albright has given us some great lessons on the toolbox of American diplomacy thank you great thank you