There are two distinct schools of thought on Public Diplomacy 2.0. Personality types actually - 'Enthusiasts' and 'Skeptics'. This debate is shaping up well and is going to rage for some time.
The New York Times finally takes notice to carry an extensive piece by Jesse Lichtenstein – Digital Diplomacy. The article looks at evolution of Web 2.0 and its use by the US State Department as a PD tool.
“It (Web 2.0) represents a shift in form and in strategy — a way to amplify traditional diplomatic efforts, develop tech-based policy solutions and encourage cyber activism.”
The article takes into account the debate and also quotes Evgeny Morozov, the biggest critic of PD 2.0 who argues that, social media “empowers all” hence it cannot be a 'strategic' tool. Says Morozov,
“Diplomacy is, perhaps, one element of the U.S. government that should not be subject to the demands of ‘open government’; whenever it works, it is usually because it is done behind closed doors. But this may be increasingly hard to achieve in the age of Twittering bureaucrats.”
“ ‘Now’ is not ‘wisdom.’ That's the great limitation of the new social media as an intellectual or even political tool… Twitter and other social media can provide an entree into PD discussions, but such discussions should go far beyond 140 characters, as I'm sure most twitterers themselves -- and they are, like this writer, ordinary persons eager to communicate with their fellow human beings -- would agree.”
I tend to agree with Jared Cohen’s view in the NYT that critics should accept the inevitability of the medium. The internet is here to stay, so what do we do about that? Can we do something about it? British Diplomat Nic Hailey, while discussing the British model of public diplomacy at Harvard’s Kennedy School remarked that,
“there are four key practical elements to consider in public diplomacy: Using the nation’s voice; use of media tools; integrating communication; and openness.”
Hailey argued that,
“…communications areas in public diplomacy offices must all integrate. Web, print, PR, internal and polling communications can no longer remain in separate silos; they must merge into one team.”
Web 2.0 can serve as a great listening tool, amplifying tool for current communication efforts and an engagement tool that leads to “last three feet interactions.”
A research student at University of Leeds, who also happens to be a reader of my blog, recently shared with me insights from academics and researchers at Leeds on the subject. These are worth considering:
1. There is only an extent to which the government can be 'interactive' on social media since it must remain within the confines of bureaucratic jargon. There is, after all, always going to be some sort of regulation on what can/cannot be said officially about government policies on a free public platform such as the Internet. If, owing to this, PD fails to come across as sincere or transparent, then it risks looking like propaganda and consequently ineffective.
2. Public diplomacy 2.0, despite its primary objective to interact, is still very much in the 'monologue' mode. Most PD 2.0 even by the US involves making documents and press statements available online. Engagement is really not happening.
Let’s not sweep Web 2.0 under the rug. Let’s get creative with it. Let’s INTEGRATE it.