Diplomacy’s BFF, social media, opens third way

In 2005, an article that largely went unnoticed about using technology appeared in Hoover’s Digest. It was authored by someone names Jared Cohen.

In it he analyzed the pent-up resistance in Iran, and what it means for the future stability in the Middle east.

“That resistance, however, no longer appears in traditional forms of oppositional activity, such as massive political demonstrations and an organized opposition. Instead, it often manifests itself in the form of a “passive revolution,” a widespread social resistance that, given its methodology of engaging in activities that are antithetical to the regime’s values, is political in and of itself.”

He spoke of something called ‘virtual association’ a form of symbolic social networking among people who were passively resistant. These real, but invisible networks posed a threat to the status quo, he said, because “there is no leadership, network, or covert movement to crack down on.” Cohen also predicted there would come a Tipping Point, when those networks could be nourished.

That Tipping Point came in June this year, with the media bans and snuffing out of any form of protest.  That idea of  ‘nourishing’ the assets inside a country appears to have been turned into a diplomatic policy.

In April, the State Department took a technology delegation from Google, Twitter, AT&T and a few other companies to Iraq. According to TIME, the person behind the idea of a technology delegation was Jared Cohen.

I find this interesting because for decades, we have adopted a for-us-or-against-us approach to how we deal with the rest of the world.  Now, a consensus toward a Third Way is being taken seriously at all levels. It involves first listening to those unlike us, seeing what ways they engage between themselves, and try to become part of their conversation.

Goli Ameri, US Asst. Undersecretary of State has also referred to this approach this third way: bringing people together to create greater mutual understanding. Dialog and exchange all fit nicely into the template of social media, which has no use of message-force multipliers –a failed PR strategy that is as crass as the phrase– and the likes.

Public diplomacy has been hamstrung with a top-down we-talk/you listen approach for decades. Today we have begun to understand the antenna is more important than the loudspeaker.

If social media and the possibilities they open up are making people try new ways of listening, connecting, and engaging we will be all better off for it.

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