Advanced media societies are vulnerable to 'influence' from abroad

Eight years ago, The Public Diplomacy Blog talked about a strategic mismatch between  advanced media societies and the developing ones. The argument we made was that with free and open social media, developed nations with high levels of media penetration, become vulnerable to "influence" from abroad, including from not so advanced media societies.

"Putin used cyberwarfare to poison American politics, to spread fake news, to help elect a chaos candidate, all in order to weaken our democracy"
Friedman further states,
"We should be using our cyber-capabilities to spread the truth about Putin —just how much money he has stolen, just how many lies he has spread, just how many rivals he has jailed or made disappear — all to weaken his autocracy"
The truth is, IT'S NOT THAT EASY!

In the blog post, Web 2.0 in Public Diplomacy - a strategic mismatch, in The Public Diplomacy Blog in 2009, it was argued that,

"...if we look at developed economies like US or Europe, internet penetration and usage are high. So, for lesser countries with the capability and knowhow ... it will be a lot easier to influence Europeans or Americans in a focused way with mass out reach. 

In a way, the strategic advantage actually lie with these countries rather than the developed West when it come to Web 2.0 Public Diplomacy.

Being on the wrong side of the digital divide may be beneficial for these states.

To illustrate further, we all know about Iran "twittering away" few months ago... but these twitterers are very minuscule and do not form the huge popular support base for conservative Ahmedinejad. (Read my blog post "Public Diplomacy & Social Media" in June, 2009.)

For Iran, it is easier to reach and attempt to influence an American audience rather than for US to reach Iranians via Web 2.0. Naturally, the tactics have to be different and a realistic assessment of Web 2.0 potential has to be made for each country."

... and we all know by now that this is exactly what Russians did to the Americans isn't it?  So, it may not be as easy for Americans to undermine Putin's autocracy simply because of the nature of media consumption in Russia. But the Americans did well with their ant-Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, so we would have to wait and see!


South Korea develops comprehensive Public Diplomacy plan

South Korea never fails to impress us with it's quiet commitment to public diplomacy. While there's lot of talk around the world about projecting soft power, very rarely do we find discussions on South Korea.

The tensions with North Korea aside, the latest that has come from South Korea is that the country has set up clear actionable and measurable public diplomacy plans for 2018 and beyond. South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced today that it has developed the first comprehensive public diplomacy program and constituted agencies to drive and execute the plan. 

We have discussed in this blog earlier as well how relevance, 'measurability' and being 'budgeted for' will become the 3 significant challenges for foreign offices worldwide as they think of public diplomacy. 

If we don't have answers to these, most PD programs will take the easy way out, which in India's case is narratives around Bollywood, food, culture and heritage and the occasional 'sensationalism'. 

South Korea seems to be working to overcome these challenges:

  • The plan has a clear budget commitment of 410 billion won.
  • The plan has 49 tasks.
  • These tasks include 320 culture related projects, 200 knowledge related projects and 190 policy-oriented diplomacy projects

Among various awareness promoting initiatives, the country also has plans to constitute private committees to "correct factual errors" regarding the country. Internally for South Korea, this is the first time PD policy has been integrated with local implementation agencies and central administrative agencies of the government. This is great!

Korea Foundation will serve as the overseer of this program.

We will definitely ask PD practitioners to keep a watch on South Korea.


Is Twitter Relevant?

Newsweek reported that protesters are demanding Twitter's CEO to step down if he is unable to remove US President Donald Trump from Twitter. The protesters have launched a campaign "@Jack is complicit" to highlight the role Twitter has played in promoting Donald Trump.

(See the @realDonaldTrump tweet that sparked off the recent outrage)

All the hype about Twitter doesn't seem to be relevant at all. Twitter has been around for almost 10 years now and is one of the oldest social networking sites. In the last decade the site has been able to add and maintain only 330 million monthly active users when reported last and the company has never revealed the number of daily active users worldwide but is believed to be less than half of it's monthly active users. Compare this to the number of internet users worldwide, which is 3.8 billion, nearly half of the world's population! If we look at the top 3 countries of internet users - China has 750 million, India has 460 million and United States has nearly 300 million connected to the internet. 

What is apparent is that the number of Twitter users among internet users worldwide are minuscule. More than 100 million internet users in India are not on Twitter at all.

If we take a moment to stop and distance ourselves from the social media frenzy, we may notice that Twitter may not be relevant to a vast number of audiences, simply because they are not there (and are not following tweets from Donald Trump).

But Twitter is a big deal! Twitter's merit as a platform for breaking news is well established. It is also the broadcast tool of choice for the high and the mighty. It is also great to establish direct contact with influential people. And, the media loves it. It gives journalists  direct access to sources and their commentaries. Twitter derives its influence precisely from this, the fact that it manages to get media amplification for activities on the platform. The current trend of news media reporting on Twitter reactions, Twitter feeds, is what keeps the platform going. It's unfortunate that precious media space gets used up in such a manner, pushing issues of the day out of the public discourse.

It would be interesting to see if media decides to ignore Twitter updates of important people and what that would do to Twitter's business. The media should also stop obsessing about Donald Trump's tweets as he operates within a highly evolved democratic framework of institutions with robust checks and balances. It should recognize when it gets played.
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