Secretary of State Hillary Clinton advocates for what she calls "twenty-first century statecraft," the use of technology and social media by ambassadors and their staff to connect and engage with their local communities. But can Facebook and Twitter really change the art of diplomacy?
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That was one question posed to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs for Digital Strategy at the State Department Victoria Esser, Indonesian Ambassador to the United States Dr. Dino Patti Djalal, Mexican Ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan Casamitjana and American Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray during a panel at the 2012 Social Good Summit.
"[Social media] is an integral part of how we're conducting our diplomacy around the world, said Esser. "We have 300 Twitter profiles, 400 Facebook pages. To me, it's about creating virtuous circles online and offline -- nothing will replace face-to-face diplomacy, but social media is an important way to connect with people and cut away time, distance and diplomatic rank barriers and have a real conversation."
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Esser pointed to a recent State Department experiment with Google Hangouts as an example of such a conversation.
"Earlier this year, we did a Google Hangout in Persian," said Esser. "We were trying to figure out a way to really engage in a dialogue in Iran, where we don't have a diplomatic presence."
Esser, subtly acknowledging the situation at the American Embassy in Cairo wherein a staffer sent tweets later reported to have gone without authorization, also said that Washington largely gives individual missions free reign to tweet as they will.
"We've devolved [control] so missions in the field are responsible, with general guidance from Washington. You can't manage a tweet at a time, and it's important not to or it won't be authentic to the community you're trying to engage with. We recognize there will be bumps along the road, but as my colleague Alec Ross points out, the twenty-first century is a terrible time to be a control freak. If you want to engage in this dialogue, there's a certain loss in control involved."
Ambassador Ray shared a unique story of using Facebook to circumvent a local government's obstructionism.
"When the government discovered our face-to-face meetings with young people were having an effect ... they started disrupted meetings. They hated it with a passion. So we came up with alternative, which was a wild suggestion at the time: A live Facebook chat, along with SMS, Twitter, and YouTube. In the first one, 200 people enrolled and we had 250 comments in the first 30 minutes.
"Facebook didn't replace face-to-face diplomacy, but it filled a gap, it became a tool we could use to do face-to-face diplomacy when that wasn't available."
For Ambassador Djalal, Twitter especially has become a crucial mechanism for interacting with Indonesians at home and in the United States.
"If not for social media, I'd have no other medium to reach out to [Indonesians]," said Djalal, who only started tweeting when he first became an ambassador. "I recently made a tweet. . .I have about 100,00 followers. I said, 'if you want to give me a gift for my birthday, do one act of kindness.' A few hours later, the hundreds of replies I got were amazing: 'I proposed to my girlfriend,' 'I kissed my mom on the cheek.' That's when I realized. . .the power of social media. It has a remarkable use for the field of diplomacy."
This story originally published on Mashable here.