Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Human Resource Development and the Strangth of Public Diplomacy

Human Resource Development is a relevant theme to be explored in the field of public diplomacy.

Although new technologies are being created rapidly, more attention and research should be dedicated

to strengthening human capital. Human capital involoves making sure that existing organizational

leaders remain competitive, relevant and capable of communicating American value to the global
community.Robert Rouda and Mitchell Kusy offer a broad perspective of human resource development in the workplace. These scholars highlight the ever increasing role of maximizing on not only physical and intellectual capital, but also human capital. Kusy argues that human capital is the greatest asset to any organization and therefore must be given the appropriate attention. Rouda defines Human Resource Development as organized learning objectives arranged within an organization in order to improve performance and personal growth for the purpose of improving the job, the individual, and/or the organization. Human resource development can encompass, but is not limited to career development, organization development and training.

Rouda and Kusy separate the levels of HRD into several distinct stages. HRD at this stage begins with an assessment of needs. This stage explores the way systems are currently and the where they should potentially be. HRD helps an organization know exactly what needs to be accomplished, set benchmarks and goals, discuss expected changes in the environment and access the economic costs and benefits. HRD identified priorities and importance within an organization to make sure goals are met. A needs assessment also identifies possible solutions and opportunities for growth. Finally, this HRD model leaves room for evaluation and recommendations to improve the HRD model. With a tight foreign aid budget, public diplomacy officers are relying more on people assets to communicate American values. In order for these officers to be truly be efficient, it requires a great deal of human resource development.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The War of Ideas - Survival of the Fittest

Dr. Rob Kelley came to speak to us today.

While I would have loved to have gotten more into his thesis, we did watch a very thought provoking movie on diplomatic relations with the middle east.

The movie made me realize that so many people out there just refuse to hear anything different than their own beliefs. It's the stuff of late night comedy, but this movie drove it home. Smiling stupidly was one buffoon proudly explaining that because this was America, he had successfully blocked the broadcast of Al-Jazeera English within the states. If I'm not mistaken, there was some spittle coming from the right-hand corner of his mouth.
How can we be so dumb as to fall for that? First, even if you are convinced that it is propaganda, wouldn't you rather listen to it so as to win an ideological battle with the enemy? Simply listening to an enemy message will allow you to build up your own defenses while taring the opposite to the ground. Second - doesn't the absolute ban just insult the very beliefs you're trying to protect? By blocking a certain point of view, how can you possibly be upholding democracy (considering some of your own people can understand this "foreign" message)? Third - you show the world that you have no confidence that true democracy will prevail in the face of tyranny. If the message says "suppress a community" then play it and see what the people think. That's right; the people.
Sorry, this guy was just a prime example of what is wrong in the nation and the communication rhetoric. His simple actions conveyed a flawed picture of what he thinks he stands for.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Meme's for Social Action

We've talked quite extensively in class about network theory and how it applies to the Internet, and also meme's. The notion of things going viral, while most of the time this applies to funny cat pictures  recently there have been meme's that is gaining more attention. The meme is in reference to the recent pepper spraying of U.C. Davis students by campus police. The whole incident was recorded by a student and shows the officer spraying students, seated, in protest. Regardless of where you may stand on this issue there is no doubt that this image has taken off and gone viral. News organizations like NPR and The Week have written excellent articles on the meme and its implications. A lot of class discussion revolves around the power of the Internet as a network and meme's. I feel this is an obvious  example of how meme's can promote social change or commentary, not just cats and Justin Bieber. 

Some argue that the incident should not be trivialized in such a way, or that this meme is making fun of the whole situation; but I believe that it is the opposite. Some of the meme's provide interesting commentary on this and are often composed of tranquil people being pepper sprayed--begging the question, what was their crime? What were the protesters? I believe people are more likely to read up on the what actually happened after seeing this meme.

This also reminded me a lot of the reading by Bingchun Meng From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse: E Gao as alternative political discontent on the Chinese Internet. While the U.S. does experience the same level of censorship (yet). I think using humor as a tool for political discourse, is truly power. Just like  E Gao this appeals to a large audience, serves a point of discussion, and is easily adapted to make different point. As the meme is put out to pasture with other LOLCatz, I hope the message will have a lasting effect. 

Benetton Ad Controversy

Earlier this month, the popular clothing store, United Colors of Benetton unveiled images for an upcoming advertising campaign. The ads featured world leaders kissing each other. In one photo President Barack Obama could be seen kissing Hugo Chavez the President of Venezuela.  In another image, Pope Benedict XVI is shown kissing Egypt's Ahmed el-Tayyeb. For obvious reasons, the company is receiving overwhelming outrage from many who feel the advertisements were created in poor taste.
White House officials and the Vatican have even threatened to sue the company for the creation and intentional distribution of these digitally altered images.
As a customer of Benetton, I am equally appalled by the company’s poor judgment in its “Unhate” campaign. The advertisements are deceptive and culturally insensitive. The leadership at Benetton deserves to be penalized for their unethical consent to feature fabricated images in its advertisements.

I do understand and recognize that the company is dedicated to its mission of global tolerance, unity and love yet, I find it difficult to comprehend their rational for creating images that displayed our most respected world leaders engaging in an overtly homosexual behavior which misrepresents their public persona. How does that inspire people to end the hate? Contrary to what the mass media touts, America is a conservative society.

Mass Media’s Threat to National Security

Earlier today, I watched a story on CNN’s The Situation Room about last week’s presidential debate. The journalist reporting the story spoke about how the candidates were asked a question about Iran and if they were president what would they do about the threat Iran posed. Candidates Huntsman and Gingrich agreed that “covert” actions should be taken by the U.S. government to stop Iran’s pursuit of a nuke. After the story, the reporter went back to Wolf Bilitzer in the Situation Room where there were several political pundits waiting to offer their insight on the subject. One of the pundits, who happened to also be a representative from the American Enterprise Institute, vehemently expressed her disapproval of the candidates’ decision to talk about the details of a possible military operation.  From her perspective the candidates ‘loose lips’ on television, posed a threat to national security. She is concerned that Iranian officials are watching CNN and may use the candidates’ commentary to evade U.S.  military action.

It is no surprise that the intelligence community is concerned about the role that mass media plays in informing the enemy. Because information and communication technologies enable messages to be disseminated rapidly to other countries, it is necessary for elected officials-and those aspiring toward office- to ensure that their messages reflect the best security interests of the United States. When Osama Bin Laden was captured for example, images of him were leaked that showed him in front of a TV watching an American news program. Whether or not Bin Laden used international media to get tips on how to avoid military detection in past years, has yet to be determined.

One thing is clear: Mass media should be used responsibly and messages that are delivered through this medium by current and future elected officials (as well as other opinion leaders) should be closely monitored for they may pose a threat to national security. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Be Your own Reporter!

So we meet once again with this chicken-or-the-egg question: does media influence politics or do the politics influence the media? Especially in cases of war or domestic financial depressions, there is a case to be made by investigative reporting techniques. As we have seen in our history, not even politicians know the full stories because they are simply not there. It is very easy to feign ignorance even though information sources are right in front of us.
I think it's impossible to deny that certain news casts are bent one way while others do try to report honestly. I think for the most part it is a battle between what we want to know and what we need to know. Conservatives are attacked for ignoring facts and being narrow minded while liberals are attacked for coming off as crazy. At least they try to show the facts. Not opinions, but facts.
I can also admit that while I generally support this latter view of the news, I think it can be done better. I often see great news reports spoiled with a snarky "what are you gonna do about it?" sort of ending. I think it's exactly this attitude that secretly fuels the debates.

Having said this, I think we all need to just do our own investigative reporting. The figures are out there for everything. CIA world fact book, WTO, Wordbank.com. They're right here. Check your sources. Find out who is supporting the news you read. Be warry of .coms.

"We can no longer live as rats. We know too much."
-Nicodemus, The Secret of Nimh

The World Is Judging You Via Social Media

So for a couple of weeks I've been meaning to write about twitter. I love it. I get breaking news via twitter, follow a host of @handles that advertise restaurant bargains in DC (I'm working on a student budget after all), and generally keep track with what is going on in the world in 140 characters or less.

One thing I am not, is a tweeter myself. I may retweet stories of interest, but I rarely post anything of my own and that may cost me in the long term. Here's why:

With Twitter becoming an increasingly influential forum, it is an obvious next step for people to be curious about who are the most influential people within this burgeoning world within social media. Hence, the creation of websites like KloutPeerIndex and YourBuzz that all measure the impact that your twitter handle has on your followers. For example, I have (what I consider to be) a reasonably respectable Kloutscore of 40. However, that falls into the 9th percentile of tweeters worldwide according to Twitalyzer. #epicfail

Now this may seem harmless, maybe even interesting, but here's where it can get interesting. Let's assume that a recent graduate of a prestigious university in Washington, DC is looking for a job. Problem number one, 50 other people all applied to the same job. Let us assume that this graduate's resume makes it to the top of the pile and is picked for final interviews with three other candidates. All four do great in the interview and in person and on paper there is really nothing to choose between them. "Well," says the potential employer. "What about online?"

And herein lies the rub. The employer wants to hire somebody who will have the greatest impact for their company, and why shouldn't that include online presence as well? Even if the company is merely background information that appears only occasionally on the twitter page, a candidate who is an "influencer" on twitter will be more appealing to the employer.

So where does that leave those of us in the single digit percentile group? Well, to paraphrase Shawshank Redemption in an overly dramatic way: get busy tweeting, or get busy dying. This may be the newest pressure on jobseekers in the 21st century and it may not be long before Kloutscores and Twitalyzer ratings are appearing on resumes and cover letters. You may have worked hard to get a fantastic education, you have experience in your field, your facebook page may be well scrubbed of embarrassing pictures, but in the 21st century, is that enough any more?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Promoting Digital Disobedience

An article published by Ian Shapira highlights the U.S. role in offering aid to the Middle East. Unlike other contributions, this aid is not coming in the form of money or food products. Instead, the U.S. is providing citizens in the Middle East technology to surf the web anonymously in an attempt to overthrow their government. The Washington Post article further notes that technology aid is purposed to encourage citizens to use social media and view news without being tracked by their government.  
The State Department and the Defense Department have been big supporters of promoting digital disobedience by offering technology aid. In January 21, 2010, Secretary Clinton, declared that she supported a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. The United States is taking a dual approach to their engagement. On one hand, we are working with foreign counties to promote good governance and on the other hand we are attempting to empower citizens to demand their own good governance. Engaging both government and civil society is critical; however, it does come with many risks.

Demonstrators using this new technology provided by the U.S. are constantly being on alert. Although they actively use Facebook, Twitter and other social media to advocate their concerns, they do so with much hesitancy. Not only must the U.S. remain smart in the Middle East, but must also be vigilant in China. The U.S. is constantly monitoring diplomatic relations with China. However China censors certain and blocks certain websites from its citizens.  Providing technology aid to these countries can be perceived differently by these foreign governments. On the same token, these same governments prefer that the United States not speak out about human rights issues.

The U.S. is taking a political act of encourage by investing in this technology to encourage civil society to demand democracy. Regardless of the risk and challenges posed, the U.S. is making an effort to give citizens the tools to define their own life and advocate for their own issues. While managing diplomatic relations with foreign governments, the U.S. has a very serious task of empowering the grassroots movement.  The U.S. is not only encouraging civil disobedience, but is advocating for digital disobedience in a new way.

Media Transformation and Political Dissent

This weeks readings focused on how the Internet has produced many new forms of reporting and tools for dissent. In the article Taking the state out of the state—media relations theory: how transnational advocacy networks are changing the press—state dynamic, Sean Aday and Steven Livingston discussed how transnational advocacy networks are challenging traditional networks. The reading discusses how traditional “beat” reporters rely to heavily on their sources and perhaps give too much credence these sources.  Aday introduces the concept on of transnational networks he states: “composed of variety of nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, governments, and myriad individuals located within these bureaucracies and other levers of symbolic power in world affairs including academia and the media.”  The definition offered is summarized with that they share “ a common vision of an issue or condition". While I have to say  that at first this statement rubbed me the wrong way, I think it is dangerous to have an agenda in reporting, I wonder if there is such a thing as unbiased reporting. As the reading suggest traditional media reporters, develop close relationship with sources and perhaps that influences their reporting?
The reading this week also highlighted the importance of the Internet as a tool of political dissent. The reading From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse: E Gao as alternative political discourse on the Chinese Internet is a fascinating example of how people in China are using creative ways to shed light on the censorship by the government. The main thing the reading stresses in the humor in these messages, and perhaps that’s why they achieved their viral status. Humor has away for uniting a population, and the reading cites the popularity of shows such as the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, not only entertain, but strike a cord with viewers about important political issues, one need only to look at the popularity of his Rally to Restore Sanity to see that the influence of the show is significant. The reading reminded me a lot of the “dictators dilemma” how do you promote the use of the Internet, while also censoring it? I think the efforts by Chinese dissents will only increase, and the more the government tries to restrict content, the more the population with push back. One only needs to look at what happened when Mubarak shut down the Internet in Egypt, to quell the revolution.  The E Gao movement is creative as it is funny.

International Reporting: Who Decides What's Important?

In many news organization there is usually two key actors who help reporters decide which stories to cover. Those individuals are usually the news director and the assignment editor although on some occasion, story choice can come directly from the reporter, but still requires approval from the director or editor within the news agency. The bureaucratic structure of news agencies is arguably a necessary component to deliver current and important news to the public, but this system is questionable when assessing whether or not this system leads to the production of fair and balance news.

In Hafez’ text International Reporting, he defines international reporting as, “the content and processes of media coverage of realities beyond the home state.” The “realities” that Hafez’ mentions includes events such as famine, droughts, conflict and even elections abroad. The role of international reporting has evolved over the past 20 years and has become a central to the American news diet. As with domestic news, journalists are central to delivering the story in international reporting and in many ways have become “intermediaries in the process of globalization (Hafez, 1).” The author’s definition of the role that journalists have in process of globalization is valid considering they carry messages about culture and societal norms from one country to another through media networks. For example, after the terrorist attack on America in 2001, the Muslim religion and Middle East culture were both central to understanding the individuals who committed the hijackings. I remember a CNN news story that covered the growing trend of Americans converting to Islam after September 11th. The story was a western perspective on Islam and did little to help the public understand the religion itself and its influence in supporting the terrorists in their act (if at all).

Agenda setting becomes especially problematic in international reporting since time and resources determine which stories can and cannot be covered. In many ways, the limitations in international reporting appear as if there is bias toward particular topics and events. As Hafez mentions, “only a small number of countries, topics and perspectives make it into the international reporting within a particular nation.” For countries like Somalia, international reports on its famine crisis came too late. Thousands of people in Somalia died due to hunger and some suggest that many deaths could have been prevented if the media covered the crisis sooner.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Power of Mobile Technology

The reading for this week highlights the impact of The Mobile Civil Society and gives several examples showing how individuals have used their cellular devices to effectuate change. Telephones have always been a major component of the public sphere. In the United States, it is very standard for citizens to call their elected officials to voice their concerns and express their needs. Civic organizations use phone banking- strategies that allow individuals to lobby their congressman or congresswoman regarding a specific issue. As much as the telephone has been purposeful to advocate, it has emerged as a tool to get candidates elected, educate the masses and even make it easier for individuals to make their banking transactions.

During the past presidential election, candidates from both parties had the technological capability to send campaign messages to supporters via text message. Not only could a person receive the campaign message, but they were also given the opportunity to financially contribute to the campaign.

In the assigned reading, Castells notes several instances where wireless communication has been used as a political tool for change. Particularly, In January 2001, thousands of Filipinos engaged in what they called People Power II to revolt against corrupt government practices by then President Joseph Estrada. Receiving information from their cell phone, demonstrators met at the original site of where the original People Power movement began.  The protest lasted for a little over 4 days and by the time it was finished several of the senators and cabinet members resigned. This signified both success and fulfillment for the movement. It is noted that over the course of the protest, over 70 million texts were transmitted.

Wireless communication has proven to be another form of non-violent direct action. If used strategically, major change can be made to reshape the global political landscape.

Palin & Trump: Political Entrepreneurs

The term political entrepreneur as defined in the Aday & Lvingston reading is a “network of professionals with recognized expertise and competence in a particular domain and an authoritative claim to policy-relevant knowledge within that domain or issue area.” In other literature, political entrepreneurs are people who use the political arena to capitalize on controversial issues and events (Younkins, 2000). Although the literature in this week’s class focuses on transnational networks as entrepreneurs, I think the term political entrepreneur can also be specifically applied to individuals who, through the media, use the political arena to advance their own interest.   

By definition, Sarah Palin could be considered a political entrepreneur. Palin’s bid for the white house in 2008 can arguably be classified legitimate. Her subsequent political involvement however, gives the appearance that she is a self absorbed political entrepreneur who used the public sphere to push her own financial agenda. Not long after losing the election in 2008 Palin, could be seen on nearly all major news networks promoting her new reality television show and book. Although she was no longer Governor of Alaska or a political candidate, she used her political reputation to make money. Just like Palin, Donald Trump relied heavily on the mass media to increase his popularity as well as promote his reality TV show. In both of these cases, the media served a key role in promoting the selfish interests of two political entrepreneurs who did little contribute to advancing society.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Google Diplomacy

The reading Google Earth and the nation, by Sangeet Kumar discusses the growing power of Google and how as a non-state actor is influencing and affecting behavior of nation-states. The readings main case study was India, and it's aversion to Google Earth. The reading discussed the security concerns India had over the inclusion of sensitive buildings, such as the presidents residence and other government buildings. This security concern was echoed by Australia, Netherlands, South Korea,Thailand, Ireland, and Russia.  The reverberations of Google Earth were felt on a global scale. Google and these sovereign nations engaged in what could be seen as diplomatic negotiations regarding Google's policy, often times met with Google's "liberal credo" as Kumar says, that entails free flow of information without taking into account their own interests in seeing Google Earth thrive.

Google uses the most powerful network, the Internet, to exert it's influence. Kumar really explores how instead of a Google nation, that another nation could address it is a center-less diffused network, with no nation-state, and no governing body. How does a nation effectively maintain diplomatic relations with such a nebulous entity? In the end much like many heads-of-states do, a visit from the head of Google prompted Google to conced to India's demands, in order to foster a positive working relationship.

This Thursday the class attended “The Last Three Feet: New Media, New Approaches and New Challenges for American Public Diplomacy” which was hosted by George Washington University’s Institute for Public Diplomacy & Global Communication, the Public Diplomacy Council, and the Walter Roberts Endowment. Ambassadors and Foreign Service Officer's discussed the changing nature of diplomacy, and best practices. They spoke of the challenges in diplomacy, in a changing media scape, a lot of the issues they discussed I could see echoed by Google strategy. The increased power of non-state actors such as Google are apparent--do you think it is possible that one day Google leadership will be invited to supra-national meetings, like the U.N.?  Should there be a governing mechanism to control these entities?

Friday, November 4, 2011

New Actors Closing the Gap of "The Last Three Feet"

So I was originally going to write about how there are an increasing number of websites out there that allow people to measure the influence that they wield on twitter and facebook, but given the event the class went to yesterday and Professor Hayden's lecture on his new book this afternoon, I'm going to save that post for next week and discuss what we heard about public diplomacy and soft power.

Perhaps the thing that struck me the most about the presentation on Thursday was what not was talked about: private and non-governmental public diplomacy. From what we have read for class and based on what we see every day, the concept that states are the only actors in public diplomacy is just not reflective of reality. In fact, there is probably an argument to be made that they are not even the most important or influential actors in public diplomacy any more either. Yet, with the possible exception of Michelle Kwan and the moderators, both panels were entirely populated by officials from the State Department.

We have talked about the rise of the international civil society in the age of information and, as a result, we increasingly see public diplomacy practiced daily on social networks, the internet at large, and between private individuals. While governments have attempted - with mixed success - to co-opt these forums to exert control over their foreign policy message, increasingly, public diplomacy is conducted without their direction or support. Professor Hayden acknowledged in his lecture this afternoon that, at the State Department, the department of Public Diplomacy does not even conduct the most important aspects of public diplomacy any more.

It would have been helpful to acknowledge this with presentations or panelists who are non-state actors in the public diplomacy debate. In saying all this, I do not want to give the impression that "The Last Three Feet" event was not important, illuminating or useful. Quite the opposite, looking at how the State Department is confronting the challenges of 21st century diplomacy is critical to understanding how the US is viewed around the world, but we cannot ignore the fact that state actors play a smaller role in public diplomacy than they used to.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Conference

So today was the diplomacy conference at GW. I just first want to say that I have never given much thought to diplomacy. But so much of the message ("Love us, please!") is wrapped up in the method of delivery. It really is, in my opinion, nation-branding. This shouldn't sound so negative. There are things that we do right and we'd be crazy not to promote ourselves abroad. I just wonder if we're doing it right.

A lot of the panelists spoke of using social media as a method to reach out to the local communities. I wonder about this. Some seemed to speak of it in a rather democratic light, using FB to answer questions about American policy. Some actually used it quite creatively and cut down on the red-tape stuff to allow answers to come in real time.
I was, however, thrown by the use of the word "fan base." Is the goal to turn our diplomats into internet personalities, signing autographs at a local cafe? I suppose this would help boost the US image overall, but it seems to distract the main point.
The diplomat from Turkey especially had a good presentation. She spoke of a few projects that tried to bond the youth of Turkey and the US. Some projects failed, but others had great success. I think the meat of this one was to allow young Turks to think for themselves, not just through whatever lens was given them. Especially in younger populations, I would tend to think that there are greater similarities. Kids will be kids. Recruiting younger folks to be diplomats was simply a fantastic idea in my book and I hope that trend continues.

The second panel of the day might as well have not even existed. It was so overtly clear that they were hungry. Once we got past the older gentleman speaking way too enthusiastically about giving poor foreigners iPads so they can be like us (I don't even have one, by the way), the moderator made no effort to encourage any real conversation. Like I said, the most I got out of that was a diplomat from a different era proving to us by his diction that he really didn't know what was going on in the digital age. The emphasis is not on the tech itself. He was really bringing it back to an arms race.

Overall I thought it was a great experience. I keep coming back to this thought of "communication" as an expression of "community." We use common words and symbols, we obtain and spread information in similar ways. We do what it culturally relevant so as to be heard and to learn. It's a really fascinating idea and I think the most important that I could glean from this course. Having said that, diplomacy presents itself as such a challenging issue. How do we honestly and accurately express ourselves to a culture that is fundamentally different?