We have freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom of the press. What about the “freedom to connect”?
It’s what U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton espoused last year during an event about Internet freedom held in Washington, D.C.
“…the freedom to connect – the idea that governments should not prevent people from connecting to the internet, to websites, or to each other. The freedom to connect is like the freedom of assembly, only in cyberspace. It allows individuals to get online, come together, and hopefully cooperate. Once you’re on the internet, you don’t need to be a tycoon or a rock star to have a huge impact on society.”
Call it “21st Century Statecraft,” which the State Department describes as “complementing traditional foreign policy tools with newly innovated and adapted instruments of statecraft that fully leverage the networks, technologies, and demographics of our interconnected world.” The idea is that diplomacy is no longer conducted by government-to-government, but instead, fostered by people-to-government or people-to-people.
There are several initiatives run by the State Department that are opening up a new way of improving diplomatic relations between countries. At the very least, the department has made an effort to internationalize its Twitter presence, for example, launching a Farsi-language feed just one day before a planned opposition protest was set to take place in Iran last year in support of the Egyptian revolution.
The State Department is also making strides in recruiting the next generation of tech-savvy diplomats, institutionalizing certain strategies, like training diplomats in Washington and at embassies and consulates around the world on how to use social media to create international dialogue and foster public diplomacy. There’s even an Office of eDiplomacy that runs several programs like the Virtual Student Foreign Service, which connects college students with U.S. embassies abroad to inspire them to work on the country’s foreign policy goals. For young people, there’s an out-of-the-box social network site dedicated to state diplomacy, as well, called ExchangesConnect. It’s not pretty, but it’s ambitious.
Even in war, social media can create peace. As reported by Eric Adler, “In Afghanistan, ‘female engagement teams,’ groups of female soldiers whose mission it is to win the hearts and minds of women in the war-torn nation, are using social media to share techniques on how to relate to women in different villages.”
This technology-as-diplomacy approach is also visible at the corporate level. Eyal Waldman, the CEO of Mellanox Technologies, a technology company based in Israel, hired Palestinian programmers from Ramallah to do his work, since they were more affordable that Eastern European counterparts. The business solution proved fruitful in more ways than one. “We think that it makes our whole economy and whole geopolitical situation better,” Waldman says.