Alec Ross Signs Out, Will Digital Diplomacy Grow?

The notion of tech innovation and Foggy Bottom might seem like two entirely different spheres–but thanks to @AlecJRoss the latest generation of ambassadors and foreign policy implementers are more aware of how social media, internet freedom and online tools play an important role in 21st century diplomacy.

Ross always rejected the idea that innovation was about specific tools such as Twitter or Facebook. He would often say “There’s no such thing as a Twitter revolution,” insisting that social media is simply a vehicle revolutionaries can use to organize and spread their ideas and plans.

“It’s really about how do you conduct diplomacy beyond formal interactions between nation states,” he told The Cable.

via Tech guru Alec Ross leaves the State Department | The Cable.

And because diplomacy is occurring in new and interesting ways on a person-to-person and person-to-group level across social networks Ross made the contribution to integrate understanding of the power of social media across the organization. Josh Rogin quotes Ross in The Cable: “I don’t want this to be viewed as another slice of the pie, but rather a part of every diplomat’s work. I want 21st-century statecraft to just be ‘statecraft.'”

These interviews on big think and Brookings, respectively, give you a little more info on the power of social media in the recent US elections as well as the strategy behind integrating it into eDiplomacy. And this was the first story (NYT Magazine) I recall about him that gives you a better insight into his career path from T4A to State’s Policy Planning Staff.


8 thoughts on “Alec Ross Signs Out, Will Digital Diplomacy Grow?”

  1. The power of social media is immense. It allows information to disseminate much more quickly and broadly than before. For diplomats, organizations, or representatives, it offers a great opportunity to connect or share with individuals, something that was fairly difficult just a decade ago. As an individual who is interested in displomacy and government, I highly value the ease with which I can “follow” a key actor or organization and receive updates on what they are accomplishing instantaneously. Many times, traditional news sources fail to cover exactly what interests me, so the ability to stay informed is invaluable to me.

  2. I think that digital diplomacy could be potentially dangerous. The written word can often leave out certain nuances in communication. Tone, paralanguage, and other pragmatic aspects of language are important for fluid communication. Written communication across cultures can be difficult because often the register used for writing is dictated by centuries of text. In short, the written word is often too entrenched in culture to be malleable enough to cross over into other languages. Because of this, there is greater opportunity for misinterpretation and overall frustration.

  3. I think that social media is making a large presence in politics and international diplomacy. One example is from the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, that changed the Egyptian political system. Social media played a large roll in making this possible. Whether or not digitalized social media is a good thing or a bad thing is still up for debate, because it is such a new concept that not much in the way of research and effects can be studied, but a whole new age of diplomacy lies ahead due to the advancements in technology.

  4. My Foreign Policy class had a discussion on social media a few days ago. Our discussion revolved around China and its strict limits on social media. There can definitely be some negative side effects of social media, however it has proven to help the spread of freedom and democracy. It is interesting to compare countries like China and South Korea, who have very different views on social media and also have had different economic prosperity.

  5. I feel like its good that the government is using digital diplomacy to connect more with people within and without the country. I feel like its a great, less intrusive way to get a feel for the political climate. Social media has become a crucial connecting point between people. Its rare nowadays to find someone, at least among youth, who doesn’t have some kind of account online. In Mexico as well, everyone was on Facebook at the Cyber-cafes. I feel like the internet has played and will play the crucial role in future globalization. Its a huge source of soft power, and if the government wants to use it, that’s great! As long as they don’t try to regulate it like China, there’s really no downside that I can think of.

  6. There are a lot of contrasting ideas here, that’s great! I agree with Joshua; social media will allow politicians the ability to take the pulse of the people very quickly. However, the result of this “pulse taking” seems to be mixed. I often wonder if the 24/7 news cycles and constant Twitter updates are the reason why nothing gets done in Washington. Perhaps politicians of become so sensitive to criticism that they’re unwilling to take any unpopular measures for fear of losing their next election?
    As a means for disseminating information after a decision is made, social media has no equal. However, I have yet to see a conversation over Facebook, Twitter, or texting that approaches the depth and mutual understanding required to reach meaningful compromise after a conflict occurs. If anything, social media drives a wedge between people as we isolate ourselves into echo chambers of like-minded people. It seems that diplomacy will benefit from the use of technology only if there is wisdom in how it is used. The last thing that the world needs is diplomats getting into flame wars with each other… shoe throwing is bad enough.

  7. I think the Arab Spring would support Alec Ross’ claim that there is no twitter revolution. Social media facilitates revolutionary ideas, and it certainly had a role in the Arab Spring. However, more and more researchers make the argument that while social media was an important factor, it was not a factor in it of itself.

  8. Today in my class we actually discussed the role that social media has played in regards to world politics. Social media has allowed current events to be be magnified on a global scale. We are able to watch events as they are happening and then plan how we need to respond. Furthermore social media has allowed for more mobilization and communication to plan group efforts like the Arab Springs. The Arab Springs may not have been so widespread if it were not for the ability to have people connect instantaneously.

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