Another angle on the turmoil embroiling some of the so-called “Arab street”–how to manage public diplomacy when messaging is hard to contextualize:
Particularly in Arab countries, where years of tensions and frustrations make hair-trigger responses common, the task for public diplomacy by the United States is exceedingly complex and is made more so by the borderless reach of social media. Diplomats must be as determined as are the troublemakers, maintaining a steady stream of information that is presented in ways that can compete effectively for audience. The U.S. State Department recognizes this and delivers high-quality public diplomacy programs, but much remains to be done. Given that online sites are increasingly turned to as substitutes for traditional broadcast channels, the State Department’s YouTube channel, for example, should offer timely, carefully designed content, not merely archival material.
What is so frustrating about the Innocence of Muslims case is that a few loopy hate-mongers can be perceived – even if by a relatively small number of people – as representatives of the United States. That illustrates both the power and the weakness of social media, and it underscores the challenges of YouTube diplomacy.