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Foggy Bottom Twitterers

I dug up this old Post piece by Collen Graffy, a deputy assistant secretary for public diplomacy at the State Department. Graffy is an avid Twitterer, and blends her tweet updates with her work as a professional diplomat. As I discussed earlier in my piece on James Glassman, public diplomacy is about to change in interesting ways in large part by employing Web 2.0 technologies and, it seems, the micro-blogging capacity of Twitter.

Graffy puts it this way:

One clear lesson that emerged from the Cold War was that winning hearts and minds required communicating in a way that “connected” with people on their terms, whether through film or jazz or jeans. To keep our public diplomacy relevant today, we have to reach out and connect with people on their terms, whether we use blogs or texts — or tweets.

What Graffy doesn’t elaborate on is how Web 2.0-friendly websites, which allow massive amounts of user input or definition, are qualitatively different from the old means of mass communication. Before, power brokers like the government or its competitor the press controlled and framed information for the public. Now that system is being re-balanced by bloggers, whose platforms are more open for continuous debate, revision and, yes, unfortunately a lot of flaming too. In a way, though, the blogosphere could be compared to a continuous Constitutional Convention.

I hope the effect this might have on public diplomacy is to encourage copious amounts of questions from foreign audiences, and substantive justifications from the official organs of the government. As citizens, this is what we owe each other in national debates. But, it strikes me, we owe it just as much to all those who may by adversely affected by our policies. If Twitter helps to bridge divides and open channels, however informal or introductory, let the twittering begin.

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