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ICT & Public Diplomacy at Fletcher: Abeer Mohammad


Note: This post in the third in a series on a panel, entitled “ICT and Public Diplomacy,” at the Edward R. Murrow 100th Anniversary Conference on public diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. The first post covered the presentation of Berkman fellow Ethan Zuckerman. The second post covered the presentation of I&D research assistant Josh Goldstein.

Abeer Mohammad is a scholar of social networks in the Middle East. She says the end of the Cold War has led to a decrease in interest in public diplomacy, and a resulting decrease in funding for such efforts. In addition, terrorists are using the Internet to spread hatred. NGOs are needed to assist governments in overcoming this public diplomacy gap.

Ms. Mohammad states that there are three elements to successful public diplomacy: a need for equal voice, a sense of commonality, and building long term relationships and trust.

She started with an example of Soliya an organization which has been organizing online dialogue session 2 hours per week between Middle Eastern, Europeans, and American university students. This young population has been chosen because they make of 60% of the Middle Eastern population. The discussions occur in an online “meeting room,” a chat room hosted by Soliya. An online white board and image viewer can be used by the Soliya facilitator to focus the discussion. Polls are also used to take short surveys of opinions. These poll often cause participants to realize the complexity of the views of the students they are dialoguing with, as difficult issues often reveal that several opinions are at play. This causes participants to start questioning the easy dichotomies drawn in the East-West debate.

How can the US government benefit from these online programs? They increase the reach of public diplomacy. This is not going to defeat terrorism, but at least we will have a presence in the online space, where terrorists are already very present. There are 180 millions young people in the Middle East, and Ms. Mohammad states that we are in a race against time to convince them not to take up the values of terrorism

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