Foreign Press Center Briefing on "Digital Diplomacy: Making Foreign Policy Less Foreign"

MS. WHELAN: I think we're ready to get started. Welcome, everyone. I'm glad you could brave the snow today. My name is Moira Whelan. I'm the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital
Strategy at the U.S. State Department, and it's my honor to open this panel today on
the topic of digital diplomacy. And we're happy to play our small part as
part of Social Media Week New York, so welcome to all of you who joined us from there, and
welcome to the Foreign Press Center and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. Before we get started, just a quick word about
the Foreign Press Center and where you are. The mission of the State Department is to
facilitate outreach, and foreign journalists are a big part of our work. And so here in this building, what we do is
credential journalists and also facilitate opportunities for them to learn more about
American culture, the economy, and society, so events like this today, as well as briefings
and trips. So any of you who are foreign journalists,
please check in with us afterwards. We'd love to get to know you. I also want to take a minute to welcome everyone
who's joining us via our livestream today, and also I encourage everyone to share your
thoughts with us via Social Media Week. We'll do our best, as many of you may have
known, because of the work done in this building, you may have a little problem connecting the
internet, but our hashtag for the event is #SMWState, so we hope you'll consider letting
us know what you think, asking some questions, and continuing in the conversation after the
event. So I want to get started today and introduce
our moderator who is with us, Emily Parker. She is celebrating the launch of her new book
today, Now I Know Who My Comrades Are: Voices of the Internet Underground, and is a Senior
Fellow at the New America Foundation and a veteran of the State Department, so she knows
about this. But the book is – really gets to the heart
of this topic, and I encourage you all to check it out – on sale today, so congratulations. MS. PARKER: Thank you. MS. WHELAN: And joining us from Washington is
Evan Ryan. She is the Assistant Secretary of State for
Education and Cultural Affairs and served in the White House prior to this, and is really
in charge of a lot of the work applying our digital tools around the world. Also joining us is Assistant Secretary Doug
Frantz, who's my boss, so I better not screw this up. (Laughter.) He comes to the State Department from the
Washington Post and other media outlets and has really witnessed how digital tools have
transformed media over the years. And finally, last but not least, Macon Phillips,
who is the Coordinator of International Information Programs at the State Department, which they
will get into what the work of each of these elements is. But Macon comes to us from the White House,
where he directed all things digital for the President, and I'm sure has some great war
stories to share with us today. So without further ado, I turn it over to
you, Emily. MS. PARKER: Thank you so much. So let's start with a very general question:
How is social media changing the landscape of traditional diplomacy? MR. PHILLIPS: Well, having just joined the State
Department in September and having been on trips to seven countries so far, I consider
myself an expert on this topic. (Laughter.) And in all seriousness though, having been
there just for that brief amount of time, its impact is profound. In many ways its impact, I think, corresponds
to what we've seen domestically here in the United States. And fundamentally I think you're seeing a
few categories of change. One is the category of power and influence
in communities, in societies; institutions are less powerful and people are more powerful. And that's a good thing. But it's a hard thing, I think, for institutions
to adapt to, and so we're certainly seeing places like the State Department, indeed the
White House as well, really prioritize adapting to that new environment. And the second – and this is sort of not a
fun trend, I think, for people like Doug or me – is the rhythm and the pace and the volume
of information that's just exploded. And it's made having a good working relationship
with journalists, it's has made having a good posture towards the media industry generally
all the more important, just because the landscape is so broad. MS. PARKER: Do you want add anything? ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yeah, I agree
with everything Macon said. But I've been there a month longer, so I know
it better. (Laughter.) Social media is vitally important to diplomacy
at the State Department and the way we're doing it, and we're using it across every
platform that you can think of just about now. We have 800,000 followers on the State Department
Twitter feed, about 480,000 on our Facebook page, a total of about two and a half million
across all the platforms. That seems like a small number compared with
Justin Bieber – (laughter) – but these are people who are engaged in the world of foreign
policy. And so for us, it's a great tool for reaching
out to the people who are empowered, and it's also a great tool for amplifying our message. But where I might disagree sometimes – not
with Macon but with others – is that I see social media as one tool. And partly it's because of my age. I'm old, in case you can't tell. I spent 35 years in the newspaper business. I'm still a believer in the mediation role
of journalism. I still believe that journalism has a role
here that sometimes is where the mediation of the professionals is sometimes lost in
the din of what happens in the social media world. And so we have to be very careful within the
State Department, I think, to make sure that we don't become absorbed in the tools and
the toys of social media. MS. PARKER: As someone who comes from journalism,
I'm very sympathetic to that argument. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Thank you. MS. PARKER: Assistant Secretary Ryan, would you
like to add anything? ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: Thank you. Thank you, Emily, and hello to my colleagues
in New York. I agree with everything Macon and Doug said. And the work we do on exchange programs, I
can say it's vitally important. Well over half of the world's population right
now is under the age of 30, and those are the people we are endeavoring to reach through
our exchanges. And those people live online. So for us, our success in terms of enhancing
mutual understanding through exchange programs, we need to work online and through digital
media. But we're also trying to shift how we do these
exchanges. And we really are shifting and looking at
virtual exchange programs as an important tool of our exchanges, just to increase the
reach and the number of people that we're able to engage with, and also just to make
sure that more people have the opportunity to understand the work that we're doing here
in the United States. And for us, exchanges are long-term diplomacy. MR. PHILLIPS: One last thing to that. Okay, we had a little feedback. Okay, great. One thing – one point I want to make clear
though at the outset, to the extent that it can help shape this conversation about the
impact of technology on diplomacy, is that it's not simply a question of the impact of
technology on communications, but it's bigger than that. One way of sort of describing it is that I
was a part of the 2008 presidential campaign of Barack Obama. And people often ask what the secret was to
the success and what sort of techniques we used, and always wondering if it was just
some spin we had on the use of social media or some question with data. The fundamental strategy that we employed
really came from the President, who was a community organizer long before the internet,
and understood that a strategy that sought to empower regular people in their own society
to effect the change that they wanted to see was the right place to start; and from there,
we could adapt and find and use a variety of tools to achieve that. And I think similarly, our strategy for diplomacy
has to start with that empowerment. And obviously, there's a lot of tools out
there to help us achieve that, but to Doug's point, it's very seductive – this sort of
exploding world of social media, all the clever tools that are out there – and it's really
important to start with a strategy, not just for communications but for overall diplomacy,
and then identify the tools that are going to help you build that, digital or otherwise. MS. PARKER: So these are all really great points
for setting up this conversation. So maybe we should get into some more specifics. So I'd love to hear some examples of how social
media influenced a particular diplomatic outcome. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Let me start with
a simple one. When the fundraising efforts began for the
typhoon in the Philippines a couple of months ago, social media played a huge role. And at the State Department and at USAID,
our partner in assistance, we pushed that out over our normal social media platforms. But one of the people in my shop had an idea. At that point, there had been – like two or
three hours earlier, somebody had sent out the first selfie – unselfie; an unselfie,
not a selfie; an unselfie. And does everybody know what an unselfie is? Well, I'll show you in a second here. So my assistant said, "Let's go see if we
can get Secretary Kerry to do an unselfie." And in a bureaucracy where he is the commander-in-chief
basically, to go into his office and ask for that was quite a bold thing. But we knew we needed it fast, and so we went
up, and I asked his secretary, and she took us in. And I said, "Mr. Secretary, do you know what
a selfie is?" And he said, "Of course." Turns out he did know, because Secretary Kerry
is a very digitally savvy guy. And so I said, "We want to do an unselfie." And he said, "Okay." And so what it was – what an unselfie is – is
we took a pad of paper and we wrote down the address for USAID's fundraising website for
the typhoon victims. And because it's an unselfie, you hold it
up like this, so they see [the message on the pad] instead of your face. And then he gets his camera out here and takes
a picture like that. And we had to make sure we got the top of
his head, so we got the very distinctive John Kerry hair, so they would still know who it
was. But it was – it was just one of those – it
took maybe six or seven minutes total, and we sent it out, and it was an enormous hit
– not just in terms of attracting followers and people watching it, but in terms of raising
money. So that was one of those very quick, quick-on-your-feet
episodes where the social media was invaluable. But again, it amplified the larger message. And that's sort of where I sit in this panel. MR. PHILLIPS: Well, I think that there's a – you
just pick up the newspaper today or your iPad, whatever the choice may be, and you'll see
a ton of headlines that are clearly influenced and driven in some way by the adoption of
social media. One of my sort of statistics I think is really
fascinating is if you look at what's happening in the Ukraine and you see a graph of new
accounts on Twitter created, there's actually a spike around the time that a lot of the
protests started, which means that a lot of people are signing up for these networks specifically
to join in protest, which means that a lot of people are signing up for these networks
specifically to join in protest, which is a sort of an interesting introduction to Twitter
if you think about it. But moving past the headlines of today, one
of – I had an experience in Africa that really taught me a lesson about the power of social
media in a way I hadn't thought of it before. President Obama has an initiative called the
Young African Leaders Initiative, which is really an effort to target the next generation
of leadership in that region. And part of it is an exchange that Assistant
Secretary Ryan can talk about in more depth, where we have 500 leaders come over this coming
summer to develop as leaders. And I went over there a few weeks ago to promote
it, and I was in Zimbabwe. And Zimbabwe, for a guy who's been doing a
lot of domestic politics, is not a place where I think, "Oh, there's a really active online
community. I'm sure, like, we can do all sorts of crazy
stuff." But they had an event targeted at young leaders
in Zimbabwe where I came and sat on a panel, a lot like this, and a guy named Sir Nigel,
@SirNige, he would get a kick out of you tweeting about him – promoted it to his network on
Twitter. And we had 300 people show up for the event
in Zimbabwe. These are – this is a cohort of 25 to 35-year-old
young leaders who are connecting with each other in societies that, let's face it, are
pretty difficult sometimes to connect in around issues of common interest like developing
a private sector, like participating in the NGO sector, like public service. And to see social media drive that kind of
attendance at a real-world event, well, I just had to look out at the crowd and realize
they wouldn't have been here without it. And so that to me was a super powerful example
of how you can see these networks move from offline to online and into events like that. MS. PARKER: That's great. Thank you. Assistant Secretary Ryan, would you like to
add anything? ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: We actually recently,
in a crisis situation, were able to work online to try to address the crisis. And that is, through our exchange programs,
to date we have 1 million alumni who are alumni of our exchange programs, which is, as you
can imagine, it's an amazing number. But over the holidays when South Sudan was
really in crisis, we worked together – all of us, my colleagues sitting with you there,
Emily – and reached out to alumni of our exchange programs in South Sudan and really asked them
to help put a stop to the violence. And we got responses from all of our South
Sudanese alumni, and it was a real example of how we can use digital diplomacy in conjunction
with our network. And our network, as we've mentioned, is strengthened
through the new tools that we have in digital diplomacy. We wouldn't have been able to do this 20 years
ago. But now we have a direct connection to these
alumni who are on the ground in these countries, as in the case in South Sudan and countries
of crisis, and we can reach out to them when we need to. MS. PARKER: Well, those are examples. So let's talk a little bit about the other
side of the coin, which is the downside of social media. As you mentioned, social media is a tool,
and tools can be used in all sorts of different ways. And one of the things that social media is
doing is it is challenging government control all over the world, including in the United
States. And I'm just curious if you can also give
some examples of the risks and challenges of using social media in diplomacy. You also mentioned that sometimes there's
a problem, which is information overthrow or getting verified information. I'd be interested to hear some examples of
times when social media maybe has played a less positive role in the diplomatic process,
and what's the best way to avoid some of those pitfalls. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Well, I mean,
we encourage every responsible person at the State Department to be engaged in social media. This is particularly true of our ambassadors
and the ranking people in posts around the world, because it's such a powerful communications
tool. But with that encouragement comes a certain
amount of risk. And – but these are people generally we have
to trust their judgment. Social media is an interactive platform. You know what. And so if you wait to come back to the State
Department and get clearance on how to respond to a question over Twitter, it'll take days
if not weeks, and the conversation will be over. And so you want people to be engaged. You want them to be willing and able to take
responsible risks. It's certainly something that Secretary Kerry
has encouraged and we're pushing it down. And the State Department can be like many
bureaucracies – a rather risk-averse environment – and so you have to reinforce this. You have to say to people: Get out there,
take responsible risk. Don't take a big crazy risk and try and change
our policy on Iran, but if you're behaving responsibly, we can expect small mistakes. And what I'm looking for is that first person
who's going to make a mistake that was taken responsibly in trying to use good judgment
so you can pat them on the back and say, "We'll keep going. We're willing to take those risks." But there are downsides. There was a simple bit of downside out of
India last month when it turned out that the regional – deputy regional security officer
and his wife had posted some thoughts on their Facebook pages that were not – were seen as
hostile toward the Indian public. So you have to be responsible. You have to take into consideration the culture
of the place where you are. You have to realize that anything you say
on social media, you should consider that it – it being said to the entire public around
the world. When I was a reporter a long time ago, I wrote
a biography of a man named Clark Clifford who was a real statesman in Washington and
a former defense secretary. And he said to me when I was talking to him
for this biography, he said, "Well, I always told people never do anything you don't want
to see on the front page of The Washington Post." And you can say that now. Never tweet anything you don't want to see
on the front page of The Washington Post or Salon or some other – some website. And you have to use judgment, but if you use
judgment, I think we're willing to accept a certain amount of risk. MS. PARKER: Do you think we're moving towards
a situation where tweets will be cleared, where tweets will have to be approved before
they're sent out? ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I don't – I hope
not. I think that would defeat the whole purpose. What do you think? MR. PHILLIPS: Uh, no. I think that one of the greatest assets, if
not the greatest asset the State Department has as an organization is its people. It is – for me, moving from the campaign to
the White House and now getting into a real proper government agency has been an incredible
experience just to get to know people who have been working problems for 15-20 years
at a time, some of whom have done that across the world – literally 10 countries or so – and
have a more sophisticated understanding of a policy than I ever could. What we need to do is create a culture that
empowers them to move quickly, but also is collaborative enough that they can ask for
help. At the White House we certainly try to push
the publication of information to the edge of the organization so that people could be
in a conversation, they don't have to clear every tweet or anything like that, with the
assumption that we had a workplace where people could say I'm not comfortable with this, I
just want to double-check. And it wouldn't be a black mark against them
not understanding; we were all collaborating on something together. And I think that's culturally what – where
we need to go with the State Department. I think it's there offline, I just think people
are somewhat apprehensive of the digital piece, and a lot of people still getting to know
what it looks like, but the fundamental instincts are there. MS. PARKER: Well, it's – so there's kind of an
inherent tension here, right, which is social media by definition is spontaneous, it's rapid,
it requires kind of a little bit of unique personality. And the State Department is a bureaucracy;
it needs to have a consistent message, it needs to be cautious in what it says to the
world. So how do you navigate that tension with kind
of letting people respond quickly and spontaneously and in an interesting and original way and
not just causing some sort of problem with a more consistent message of U.S. foreign
policy? MR. PHILLIPS: Yeah, I'll try to take that. And, Evan, just butt in if you have anything
to add; it's okay to sort of chime in here. So I feel like I can speak to this a little
bit because we have the same challenges at the White House. What's presidential in 2014? MS. PARKER: Mm-hmm. MR. PHILLIPS: I used to say 2009 but time has
gone by. But we have this voice of these institutions
that is above it all, that is – that speaks with this authority. Yet we're trying to enter into a medium that
is very casual, very personal, and we want to put out content that people are going to
not only take in but respond to and share amongst our network and really take and make
their own. But we can't go into that with the sort of
virtual suit and tie approach, and this is a big challenge. Humor – I mean, just go log into any of your
social media feeds and you'll probably laugh within three minutes. It probably won't be one of our jokes. (Laughter.) This is an area that I think at the White
House we made a lot of progress in, the State Department we still have room to improve of
looking at how we can have a more human tone in our content since we are going direct to
people, yet still respect the seriousness of which – or the seriousness that the issues
we grapple with deserve. This is a real challenging tension. On top of that, you have a bias among – all
my communication I would say exacerbates it, but just general human behavior – is that
conflict motivates a lot more than consensus. And so when you're engaging, you get this
false sense sometimes that things are a lot more controversial or there's a lot more antagonism
than truly is, because people don't wake up in the morning and say I am going to get on
that guy's Facebook page and tell him he's doing a great job. What you see are people who are rising up
– sometimes because they have no alternative – to speak out against something. But that's a bias that we have to factor in
to how we're approaching engagement online. MS. PARKER: Thank you. ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: And I'll just add
to that, that something that we think about a lot – we think about tone, but we also,
for the work that we're doing, are really trying to reach that younger audience that
might not be engaged with us at this point in time, and we're always trying to think
creatively of how we can connect to that younger audience. And one example of a different approach – an
approach that probably hasn't been so common at the State Department – is tomorrow I'm
hosting a web chat with Comic-Con and with a Muslim superhero comic called "The 99." And we're doing that to try to reach a different
audience, an audience that's an audience of "The 99" and see if they will engage with
us and just help them understand that we are a varied, diverse group of people here at
the State Department and that we're reaching out to them in a variety of ways. So we are trying to think of creative approaches,
but some of those approaches might not be traditional Foggy Bottom approaches that you
would have seen in the past. MS. PARKER: Thank you. So the – my book actually looks at three countries
in particular – China, Cuba, and Russia. And I would put these three countries in the
category of countries that are probably a little more challenging on the digital diplomacy
front. And they're challenging because these governments
have different ideas about the free flow of information from the United States, but also
they're challenging because – and I remember this from my time at the State Department
– there's a lot of sensitivity about U.S. interference in the digital sphere. So for example, I remember Secretary Clinton
had just mentioned that there was a Russian language Twitter feed. And there was this – among other languages;
it wasn't just Russian. And there was a bit of an – a bit of a commotion
online in Russia about how the U.S. was invading Russian cyberspace. And you get this a lot. And then the other part of it is when the
U.S. Government tries to engage bloggers in these
countries, sometimes it compromises these bloggers. They're seen as agents of the United States,
or they're seen as spies, or – so I'm curious how you navigate those tensions like China,
like Cuba, like Russia. And there are others in that category as well. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Well, I think
we're certainly – the U.S. supports universal rights, including freedom of expression. And those are conversations that all of our
diplomats have when they have bilateral engagements. I think the fact that Secretary Kerry took
time out of his trip to China over the weekend to meet with four Chinese bloggers – even
though he didn't tell them, "Bring down that great firewall of China," but the fact that
he was there, he took time to listen to them and hear their concerns demonstrates a recognition
that open access is good for the people, and it's good for countries. I mean, part of his message there was that
no economy is going to survive if it's closed to the outside, and if you're Russia or China
or Cuba and you're trying to shut your internet, it's a losing proposition. You're going to lose at some point. And I know that I'm going to read your book
over the weekend, and I assume you make some points similar to that. It's just inevitable that that wall is going
to come down. And so we're there to try and encourage people
to have the right to express themselves and to encourage governments to allow that within
the parameters of diplomacy. MR. PHILLIPS: I agree with everything Doug just
said and would add that in addition to specific efforts we might take on any given country,
any given group, the best thing that the United States can do is continue to demonstrate an
open society through our own actions. And that means seeking out critics and confrontation
and really encouraging a debate about our values that makes us stronger. That's certainly something that President
Obama believes, and I know because of our time with the White House digital program
trying to figure out how we could create opportunities for that, moving from the campaign where we
really looked – sought to empower our supporters. We wanted to have a program that really sought
to empower and engage everyone, of all perspectives. And that's something, I think, we're carrying
into the State Department, has been done at the State Department. But as we develop our online engagements,
we can't cherry-pick just the people who agree with us. We have to really solicit and treasure and
promote that conflict, that debate, to demonstrate that it's important. And the other piece I'll say about this issue
generally that was pointed out to me early on at the State Department, actually, by another
former journalist who's now part of the BBG – he pointed out that our First Amendment,
that our framers, our Founding Fathers anticipated a situation like this. Because if you look at the First Amendment,
it's constructed in a way where it says that Congress shall make no law restricting – shall
make no law – it didn't set a law protecting the press; it sort of started from the premise
that it's kind of hard to define the press. It's kind of hard to define who gets to express
freely. And so now, in 2014, our society enjoys that
approach to freedom of expression and I think we need to make sure we exploit that to promote
that value around the world. ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: (Inaudible) agree
wholeheartedly with what both Doug and Macon have said. I would just add that I think Secretary Kerry
made this point earlier this morning that it's also an economic imperative; there's
economic benefit to these countries opening up. And as Macon and Doug just said, hopefully
we lead by example. MS. PARKER: Thank you. So, of course I have to ask the Snowden question
– which I'm sure you get all the time, and I'm sure if I don't ask it, somebody will
– which is, as you said, one of the U.S. principles is openness and freedom of expression, and
right now we're in an atmosphere where a lot of people are accusing the U.S. of excessive
surveillance and of hypocrisy in these areas. And I'm curious if that, in the kind of Snowden
or post-Snowden or whatever era we're in, if that has made it difficult for the U.S.
digital diplomacy and internet freedom brand. I mean, is it more difficult to operate in
these areas when you kind of have a lot of backlash from abroad? ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I think we're
certainly aware of the Snowden backlash. And unfortunately, I wouldn't call it the
post-Snowden era yet. I fear there's more to come. But in a way, Emily, it's apples and oranges. I mean, Snowden is talking about the National
Security Agency and other covert operations. What we're doing through the State Department,
through public diplomacy and through public affairs across all social mediums, is transparent;
it's open. So the Snowden blowback has not changed our
engagement with the world. In fact, I think it's underscored the need
for transparent engagement, and to go back to the point made both by Macon and Evan that
we need to lead by example. However, the remaining journalist inside of
me says, of course, it's harder now. I mean, people look at us and they think it
is hypocritical to argue on behalf of internet freedom worldwide. But I really think that we're still pushing
that message. The United States has to push it, and the
President spoke to this last month. We've had a debate in the United States. We've had the President engage in a way that
wouldn't happen in Russia or China or Cuba or any other number of countries around the
world. We have an open debate about whether we got
the technology too far ahead of respect for personal privacy. MR. PHILLIPS: Yeah. Yeah, I think just to underscore what Doug
just said, I think our response to these questions, our response to this debate is our best example
of the kind of society that we want. Moreover, I think when you look at a guy like
Ambassador Pyatt in Kyiv retweeting the voices of regular Ukrainians, I don't think those
two issues cross. Here we have an ambassador who recognizes
that the most valid voices he can point to are voices of the people in the country he's
meant to engage with. And that idea of curation and empowerment
and elevation of regular people is something that transcends any controversy or any set
of technologies – and in fact, predates the internet. And I think that is where we see American
values of celebrating individual power come to bear. And I just don't see that being affected by
this. MS. PARKER: Do you think that – and those are
great distinctions. Do you think the public is making those distinctions? MR. PHILLIPS: Well, it's hard – I mean, you sit
in a suit on a panel stage, it's hard to sort of say that I get what John Q Public thinks. So I mean, I've learned, I think, not to assume
anything in this world. That said, I don't think we're seeing serious
changes in behavior about public engagement that we could attribute to any given story. But coming back to the point Doug made, I
think that the real factor here – how the United States continues to have this debate
domestically, led by the President, is our best way to show the rest of the world how
we deal with really difficult issues that have valid arguments on all sides, as the
President laid out in his speech. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I'd just add one
point. My wife works at a firm where there are lots
of young people, 20-somethings. And they have no expectation of privacy. They were not surprised or shocked by the
Snowden revelations. They said it's sort of the way they figure
they run their lives – everything – and there is no privacy in terms of their electronic
communications. So they weren't shocked by that at all. ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: All I would add
is just a very small microcosm of an example, which is we have a program, an exchange program
called TechWomen. And it brings women from the Middle East and
North and Sub-Saharan Africa over to Silicon Valley, where they are mentored and learn
skills, marketing, all aspects of business in Silicon Valley. They're able to then bring back that knowledge
to their country and grow their own businesses in digital media, and it's incredibly popular. We can't keep up with the demand, and so I
don't think anyone's looking at us that differently, because we're leaders in this field. MS. PARKER: Terrific. Thank you so much. Should we move to questions from the audience? Okay, great. And I'm going to check and see if there are
any questions from Twitter. I'm not just checking my phone. (Laughter). MODERATOR: If you have a question, please
raise your hand and we'll bring the microphone to you. QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon, and thanks for
that. Is this working? Is it on? Great. This morning, Jonah Peretti, the founder and
CEO of BuzzFeed, was talking downtown. And one of the things he said that was interesting
was that brands are harmed when they interact with their audience to give them content that
they don't want. So I wanted to know how the State Department
approaches that in terms of making sure that it's interacting with people and giving them
the content that they want. And then, how do you measure the value of
that? Do you use metrics like traffic metrics, or
how do you measure the value of the influence that you impart? MR. PHILLIPS: Well, I should start by admitting
that in two hours I'm heading to BuzzFeed and will probably ask some of these same questions. They're certainly an example of an American
company that is incredibly innovative and are really pushing the boundaries on sort
of the new media business model. Fundamentally, what digital offers us is the
ability to target our messages more precisely. And that begs a few questions in terms of
our strategy: Who are the audiences we seek to reach with various public diplomacy campaigns? And sometimes those questions have already
been asked, but sometimes that's where we really have to start. And if we have too broad of an audience definition,
I think Peretti's right that you can actually see that sort of rebound against you. Fundamentally, people want things that are
relevant to them. As an American, I am very proud that we have
360 degrees of relevance. We have a diaspora community for every country
here in the United States. We have expertise in every industry. We enjoy a rich – richness of relevance. We just have to think about how we can make
those connections. And you can look at that – everything from
a rapid response to the things that Evan's working on with our cultural exchanges and
our science exchanges. We can find a way to connect some part of
America with a member of a foreign public that they want to hear about, even in countries
where we struggle at a government-to-government level. People still are excited about our science;
they're still excited about our culture and our arts. So that's one big point. In terms of measurement, there's a plethora
of metrics out there, as members of the media – Well, I'm sure you're very familiar with
the ones your editors impose on you and whatnot. One of the basic metrics that I think we need
to spend more time on at the State Department is the metric of what's called in the industry
loyalty, which is to say how many people use this content more than once in a period of
time; how many use it five times; how many people are showing us by their own effort
that they tried it, they went somewhere else, and they came back. Fundamentally, to me, that is a good test
of relevance to someone. And so as we're looking at our website traffic,
as we're looking at our social media, frankly those are moving past online to our offline
spaces like our American spaces all around the world in our embassies. Understanding this notion of repeat engagement
and the deepening of the relationship is as important, if not more important, than our
just nominal counts – we had so many quadrillion people visit our Facebook page once or what
have you. It's harder to do but it yields better outcomes
in terms of forward-looking strategy. QUESTION: Hi. Can you briefly highlight some of the near-term
and long-term initiatives regarding social media that are on deck? And also, are there any examples that you
want to point to of State working with foreign governments in the digital space? ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yeah, that's a
great question. We do work closely with our allies in terms
of trying to sync up – the very close allies in terms of trying to sync up social media
messages. In December I was in London and I met with
my counterpart at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. He's much taller than I am, but we have roughly
the same jobs. And we talked about exactly that: How can
we work together on certain types of messaging when we all – when we have a common goal in
terms of diplomacy, in terms of influencing minds around the world? How can we work together? And we're seeing the beginnings of that. We saw Catherine Ashton of the EU and Secretary
Kerry announce the Iran talks resolution, the first resolution, simultaneously over
Twitter. So we're testing that ground I think. I mean, the problem and the joy of social
media is you don't know what it's going to be like six months from now. And so we have smart people here like Macon
who will – who are trying to look into a crystal ball and see that. But we also have to deal with what's real,
and we're on almost every platform now at the State Department. We're on Tumblr. We're on Instagram. We do some Vines. We started Secretary Kerry, to go back to
one of Emily's earlier questions, and this idea of the State Department voice versus
a more human voice – for the first year, Secretary Kerry was restricted to a State Department
handle, JK. About two weeks ago, on the first anniversary
of his becoming Secretary, he re-launched @JohnKerry, his personal Twitter feed, which
he had built up in a big way in the Senate. He was one of the early, early adopters there. And he had enough time under his belt, he
was comfortable enough in the office that he felt able to go out and present sort of
a more human side. And so there's a distinct difference there
if you – what you get on the State Department Twitter account is different from what you
get on John Kerry's personal account. So that's one of the things that we're toying
with: How far can you go? And when I was talking to Hugh Elliott, they
had just had a mini catastrophe. One of their principal diplomats had written
an open letter to Lebanon, to the country of Lebanon, and it created just a firestorm
in the social media because it was very personal, it was very pointed, and there was just this
huge blowback. And so I said to Hugh, I mean, "What did you
do?" And he said, "We took our lumps and went on." He said that the rewards far outweigh the
risks. So that, again, that's part of this nearer-term
strategy that we're trying to figure out how far we can go. We have a document about this thick at the
State Department called the Foreign Affairs Manual, which tells you everything you can
and cannot do, and mostly the things you cannot do. And we're trying to adjust that now to allow
us to engage in conversations over social media. And this has to be litigated with the lawyers,
with the unions and everybody else. Well, when I came in as Assistant Secretary
in September, I said, "Let's kind of ignore that a little bit and let's engage." Because we have to engage. And so, again, it's testing the water. It's not exactly pushing the envelope, but
for the State Department it's taking some responsible risks. MR. PHILLIPS: And I actually think Evan may have
the best example in our virtual exchanges that she can talk about. I wanted to just make a very quick point,
though, when we're talking about short, medium and long term, raise your hand if you have
heard of WhatsApp. Okay. So I did this at a meeting internal to State
Department and fewer hands went up. This is a network that — ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: That's when I
learned about it. MR. PHILLIPS: — at the end of last year, Twitter
had around 260 active – million – users or (inaudible) in the paper. WhatsApp had 400 million. If you go to Africa, everyone raises their
hands at WhatsApp. It's really – ít's what's up I guess is what
they would say. But I only bring that up because I've been
in this industry, the digital sort of organizing space since 2005, and I remember when Facebook
came along and Twitter and YouTube and all these things. Who knows what networks will be the predominant
network in a certain country, in a certain cohort, in two years, five years. It's part of what makes this really exciting. When we're looking at social media strategies
and we're – when we're talking about the topic at any time, it's really important not to
talk about a specific network – let's talk about Twitter or let's talk about – let's
talk about public engagement and understand that there's a variety of networks to do this. And one of the things that really – keystone
projects for us moving forward with sort of public engagement are these virtual exchanges. Evan, if I – oh, she's getting a note. Are we not doing the virtual exchanges now? Is that what they're telling you? (Laughter.) ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: (Inaudible) virtual
exchanges, but then I have a question. But – so I'll – so virtual exchanges first. We have worked a lot of virtual exchanges
recently. In fact, we were very excited in the fall
to launch The Collaboratory, and the primary focus of The Collaboratory is going to be
virtual exchanges. We have an exciting one coming up in just,
I think, two months, where it's going to be a virtual exchange with the Mars Rover, where
we're going to bring students from around the U.S., as well as students in South and
Central America, and they will submit questions together and they will do this jointly so
they learn from one another, see the questions that each other are asking, and they will
as these questions of the Mars Rover. This is going to be in conjunction with NASA
and Google as well as the State Department. But we really are making a move to move more
and more into the space of virtual exchanges because there are so many people that unfortunately
don't have the opportunity to come here to the United States. And what's the best way to tie us all together? And that's online. And so we are doing this through virtual exchanges. And another example I think Macon might be
referring to, which is exciting, is our MOOCs. We are – we've launched a MOOCs course with
Coursera, where people can sign up online, take the course. But an added component that we're working
on, that we've launched through the State Department is you then can go to your embassy,
to the U.S. embassy in the country where you reside, and take part in an actual dialogue
with a Fulbright scholar, an embassy employee, who can help talk you through what you've
learned online. So that's a good example of where we're trying
to tie the two approaches together – the new media online approach as well as our in-person
exchange approach. And we've had tremendous success with it. It's operating right now in 46 countries around
the world and 46 embassies. And I do have a – yes — QUESTION: (Inaudible) in person because it
will be more understandable — ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: Okay. QUESTION: — where I'm coming from. I recently attended a SOCOM conference at
the U.S. Special Operations Command. They were outraged at the social media, using
as an example the situation in Mumbai, in India, where it was under a terrorist attack. Some users on the social networks actually
prompted the attackers, the terrorists, what was happening, what the security forces were
doing. And so these security people in their conference
were very unhappy with that. And so my question now is about Ukraine, about
the same situation. What do we say? What do we tweet? ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: So – yeah. QUESTION: (Inaudible) are they extremists,
who may be calling to torch the police, the police vehicles, the government buildings. ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: Thank you. QUESTION: Are you planning to do anything
like this, like you describe in South Sudan? ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: Right. That's a good question. So I don't know if you all heard that question. It's sort of the flipside. And the example used was in Mumbai, when there
were people tweeting with the terrorists in Mumbai and encouraging them and giving them
details on the security situation so they had better access. So it's the flipside. And the other question is what would we say
to the people who are tweeting and asking Ukrainian protestors to torch, to torch police
vehicles. So it's the flipside of that. I would say that I know from our South Sudan
experience our message always is to – we don't feel that violence is the solution in these
cases. And I know that that's the message. I would turn to my colleagues, but I know
that's the message that we in the State Department would encourage of anyone. And we would never condone anyone. But sadly, I would – wonder what my colleagues
would say – but unfortunately, for better or for worse, as you point out, we are an
interconnected world through these digital media tools. And this is an excellent question, because
the sad point is sometimes that's used for mal intent. And we appreciate your question. MS. PARKER: I want to take one question from Twitter. Can I do that? Just because people have been sending them
in. So this is one question close to my heart
and also touched on some things we already talked about. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: It's about your
book, huh? MS. PARKER: Yeah, it's about my book. MR. PHILLIPS: Where can I buy your book? (Laughter.) MS. PARKER: Actually – no. (Laughter.) It's a question about – this is something
that's come up, but we can go into a little more detail. Secretary Kerry spoke with bloggers in China. Is there any particular strategy for China
and Southeast Asia? So if anyone wants to answer that specifically
about that region. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: I'm not sure how
much we can say beyond what I said earlier about the Secretary taking the time out of
his incredibly busy schedule to meet with those bloggers. I mean, that's a symbolic action, and it's
also a concrete, strategic one. He wants to hear their issues. And all across the world, where there are
closed societies, we're encouraging people to find other ways to reach out and to connect. We have a virtual embassy for Iran. We aren't in Iran, but we have a virtual embassy. And because Twitter and other social media
are banned there, we find other ways to get in. We have ways – we have a platform where we
have a whole office basically that is countering the voices of violent extremists around the
country. We have people who are sitting in the State
Department building in Foggy Bottom who are engaged in constant conversations on extremist
websites around the world to inject what we view as the reality into those conversations. We do that in Punjabi, we do it in Arabic,
we do it in Somali, we do it in Urdu, and now we started doing it recently in English,
because we've seen extremist recruitment moving into the English language sphere. So we're engaging in every possible way, but
we – again, it's – we can't tell – what we've discovered certainly since the Arab Spring
and we knew it before, you can't tell people what to think. You can't tell them to open up. MS. PARKER: I'm sorry. And that question was from @HowMelissa by
the way. MR. PHILLIPS: Okay. Well, How, I'll just add one other piece to
that, which is that it would be foolish to think that we are crafting a strategy we're
going to begin tomorrow vis-à-vis China and bloggers. This has been years worth of work already
that led into this meeting this weekend. I'm certain the Secretary will come back and
folks will come back and want to reexamine how we can do even more. But let's just examine over the past few years,
we've done – I was part of a virtual teleconference between the White House and Chinese bloggers
at the embassy in 2010. The President had a town hall there, which
touched on a lot of issues, including the freedom of expression. And there's been a long-standing strategy
there. Could we do more? Well, I think we're definitely going to be
asking ourselves that question this coming week, but that shouldn't sort of replace the
idea that we're already doing quite a bit to support that value – that American value
of freedom of expression around the world, not just in China. QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Kahraman Haliscelik. I am with Turkey's national broadcaster, Turkish
Radio and Television. Now, the social media promotes openness and
everything is out there and you can see everything and you can read everything, you can access
it. But traditional diplomacy is the opposite. You have to be kind of secret until you do
something, or at least that's the concept. How far in digital diplomacy – I mean, it's
a very wide topic, obviously, digital diplomacy, but when it comes to the State Department
kind of diplomacy, how far do you – or are you willing to go into it, into social media,
kind of tell the world what you are doing? ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Well, I think
— QUESTION: What are the limits that are (inaudible)? Thank you. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yeah, I don't
think there's a straight-line limit. It's situational limits here. I mean, there is diplomacy that happens quietly
between governments, between diplomats, and then there's what we do, which is public diplomacy,
public affairs. So my job, the job of the 200 people who work
for me, is to push out a public message and to engage the public. Same for Evan, same for Macon. Another side of the house is doing the quieter
stuff. So I don't think that they cross over. Sometimes, I guess there are concerns within
diplomatic circles at the State Department that we're going too far in terms of engagement. And so we have conversations on that, and
basic policies certainly get cleared. We have guidance. We have guidance for our social engagement,
just the way diplomats who go out and talk have guidance. So we respect that. We respect those rules. MR. PHILLIPS: I mean, but I would go further and
say I don't agree. I don't agree that as a rule, diplomacy sort
of exceeds – rather, diplomacy must at some point be private. I certainly think when we're talking about
negotiations, there's an argument for privacy between parties and things like that, national
security matters. I think what you're seeing now, though, is
less a question of what's private and public and more how the traditional methods of engagement
can actually be complemented by public engagement, but how they both can flow back into diplomatic
priorities. Which is to say private conversations are
a heck of a lot easier when there's public space for a leader to make difficult decisions. And that public space is absolutely affected
by public diplomacy. They're all interrelated. What's very important is to not have on one
floor public diplomacy, and on a different floor, diplomacy, and have these two separate. It is just beyond imagination that you can
walk out your door, turn on your computer, pick up a newspaper, and think that we're
not in a new era of public engagement and public empowerment that has a material impact
on traditional diplomacy. And I say that knowing that while our colleagues,
I think, are certainly looking at how best to adapt to that, they all recognize that
North Star, that public diplomacy is a central part of our overall diplomatic strategy. MODERATOR: We have time for one more question. QUESTION: Thank you very much. A great panel. A question, really, about the general acceleration
of change and the pace with which things are moving, and also about sort of the negativity
that's possible in this. So if at any given time, we're looking at
a web that's moving something like 20 percent of their traffic is cat images and happy days,
on the other side you're looking at it and saying there's a lot of outrage, and outrage
accelerates. And from the State Department perspective,
if you – my question is: How do you help break that cycle on the outrage side of it? At the end of the day, ultimately, could you
also be running the risk of accelerating outrage? ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: Yeah. QUESTION: And what would you do in that — MR. PHILLIPS: So I know far too much about this
topic of outrage. But first, I want to pause, because I think
Evan was actually giving an answer, and – Evan, did you have anything you wanted to add to
the earlier? ASSISTANT SECRETARY RYAN: Thank you, Macon. I was just saying – I'll say very quickly
that what I think we all do, and this speaks a lot to what you said, is that we're working
on grassroots diplomacy, and that it helps a leader in any country with their diplomacy
if they have the support of their public, as we've seen. And what we're doing with our public diplomacy
is really trying to build that support. So I think a lot of what we're doing is grassroots
diplomacy. MR. PHILLIPS: (Inaudible) that's what she looks
like when she's outraged, yeah. So I'll hand this off to Doug here in a second,
but my basic realization over the past few years of dealing with a lot of critics and
a lot of people who feel very passionately about various policy positions in a society
where we encourage that, we celebrate that, is that people haven't been heard enough,
that – it isn't to diminish the substance of people's criticisms, but just the act of
listening is such a rare thing for large institutions, even in the United States, that for us to
be able to engage with people in other countries, particularly those where their own governments
may not be as responsive, is a very powerful thing in of itself. The real challenge is being a steward of that
feedback in a way where we can actually bring that to the policy-making process. So what I – a different way of saying that
is: You show up and you listen to a lot of people who are outraged. What is the process by which you look at that
feedback and actually turn it into actionable input for the United States to consider as
it moves forward? Because one of the challenging parts of outrage
and criticism is that it just gets so wild and crazy, it's not as constructive. And fundamentally, that's what diplomacy should
be about, is constructive work together with other countries and other people. And so how we harness what we can pretty much
understand is a cold-fusion level supply of energy manifested in outrage into more constructive
input for American foreign policy making I think is the question of the day, and certainly
a huge opportunity for us moving forward. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRANTZ: That strikes me
as the answer of the day. (Laughter.) MS. PARKER: I think that's all we have time for,
right? Okay. Thank you. Thank you all very much. MR. PHILLIPS: Thanks.

2 thoughts on “Foreign Press Center Briefing on "Digital Diplomacy: Making Foreign Policy Less Foreign"

  • ''Yes! Enemies! We need enemies!'' – its like I'm listening to a briefing of US foreign policy.

  • In case you missed it #SMWState: the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and the Coordinator for the Bureau of International Information Programs participated in a panel on “Digital Diplomacy: Making Foreign Policy Less Foreign” as part of #SocialMediaWeek New York City. Watch the video at

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