As the highly contested treasure trove of the State Department WikiLeak just keeps giving and giving, an interesting and under reported cable came to light earlier this week. It had to do, quite unexpectedly, with the social media strategy of the US State Department and specifically, the US Embassy’s social media efforts in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Jakarta? You ask. Yes, interestingly enough the US mission in the growing Southeast Asian archipelago nation is the most active of all in this ‘new’ and rapidly evolving field of public diplomacy. With more than 300,000 ‘Likers’ on Facebook at present and an impressive presence on Twitter and Youtube, the US mission in Jakarta was in a push to get a significantly bigger budget for its social media outreach in advance of President Obama’s November 2010 visit, the leaked cable reveals. Although the cable reveals nothing particularly controversial, it gives interesting insights into the growing importance of social media in America’s outreach efforts in highly connected developing countries, particularly in Asia. It also provides insights into the growing, albeit not openly publicized, funding involved in spreading the message about the US, its leadership and about its policies in the region by directly and interactively reaching out to a younger generation, active on Facebook and other social media channels. And the strategy seems to be working- in less than a year, the number of Likers on their Facebook page has grown six-fold, from 50,000 to 300,000 and the number of Twitter followers from 1,000 to more than 16,000, with regular interaction from fans of both services.
This development begs a lot of interesting questions about the future of public diplomacy:
Are other diplomatic missions, even just other US missions around the world, taking note of the Jakarta Embassy’s success?
Is there something unique and special about the Indonesian environment where social media-focused outreach efforts find particularly fertile ground beyond Obama’s personal connection to the country?
Is the ‘soft power’ message that they are getting out uniquely suited to the kind of informal, multisensory interactivity that services such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube represent and do these provide a highly fertile new ground for such ‘persuasive’ activities and the building of soft power across the world?
Is social media changing the landscape of public diplomacy drastically and for good and what might its long-term effects be?
Does this finally bring foreign relations closer to the people and their concerns or is it simply a veil behind which business-as-usual continues (the highly fortified US embassy in Jakarta, seen above, is a powerful reminder of this metaphorical paradox)?
For more information on this fascinating topic, check out our recent ISN Insights package on E-Diplomacy and look out for an article coming up in February on the specific impact that social media is having on foreign relations.
One of they key commons of tomorrow and an out-of-sight battleground for geopolitical rivalries and national aggrandizement, space deserves a lot more attention than it gets. To put the spotlight on this overlooked issue, we present to you the ISN Digital Library holdings on the keyword ‘Space‘- let us know what you found particularly interesting and enjoy exploring the true frontier of international affairs.
This week we’ll examine the following issues: Pakistan’s internal turmoil, Hungary’s deep polarization and the recent media law controversy, US long-range strike capabilities, Africa’s increasingly optimistic economic outlook, and the issue of corruption.
Yes, water. This seemingly endless resource that covers 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. A resource that in a profound way forms the very core of who we are and how we live and yet gets little attention and even less press – perhaps precisely because of its ubiquity. Water, we tell ourselves, rains down from the sky and shoots through our kitchen taps; water is everywhere and used for everything. We can’t possibly be leaving any kind of dent in its incessant flow, let alone calculate any ‘footprint’ associated with it?
Yet this omnipresence is profoundly misleading. The water that we can easily use and consume, the fresh water of this world, only makes up about 2,6 percent of total supplies. An increasingly scarce and contested resource particularly in the poorer, more drought-prone parts of this world, fresh water, many experts believe, will become the future frontier of clashes, conflicts and even wars. Papers warning of ‘water wars’ in the Nile river basin or in the Mekong Delta are increasingly common, indicating that the political science community, not just ecologists, is beginning to take note.
Beyond expert circles, however, the issue still struggles to make it to the center of popular consciousness and debate as a key, if not the key challenge of the future. Water and water scarcity are issues that elude most people’s thoughts because in richer countries at least we are rarely faced with its limits. However, nearly half of the world’s population already suffers from some form of water-related distress, either due to lack of access to safe drinking water (an estimated 884 million people) or because of unsafe sanitation practices (for more than 2.5 billion people). An estimated 3.5 million people die every year due to illnesses related to poor water or related hygiene standards. In an important, if still primarily symbolic move, the UN recently declared clean water a human right in an attempt to bring the issue to the forefront of public discussion.