A New Way to Communicate?

At the very end of  “A 21st Century Model for Communication in the Global War of Idea”, Corman, Trethewey, and Goodall (2007) write “Current strategic communication practice in the United States and Western countries is based on an outdated message influence model from the 1950s that views communication as a process of transmission from a source to a receiver using simple, consistent, repeated messages” and I completely agree. Communication with other countries and other people for that matter is billed as being extremely simple. You create a message and encode it with certain themes and undertones that you want to convey and then you transmit the message to the receiver in some format and then the receiver decodes the message and understands exactly what you wanted them to understand.

Yeah. Right. Ok. I don’t think so. Communication doesn’t work that simply. If it did, there wouldn’t be so many misunderstandings in the world and I may never have gotten into an argument with a really good friend after my freshman year. (But, that’s a story for another time.) I think that they bring up a really interesting way to look at the communication model with the Pragmatic Complexity Model. It took me a little bit to figure out exactly what they were talking about, but I think I finally figured it out. In a nutshell, you have two people. Person A is going to send a message to Person B, so they figure out what it is they want to convey and they encode it in the message. The message then travels across some particular medium, and is then decoded by Person B. But, when Person B decodes it, there is noise that has interfered with the message as it traveled on the medium and Person B is also interpreting the message through the actions and behavior of Person A. And yet, Person A is acting based on the reactions of Person B. At least, I think that’s what’s going on. So, in a way we have this giant spiral that muddles with the message itself, no matter how simple it is.

This makes perfect sense to me. It pretty much says, “Hey look! We all interpret things differently and thus communication is never going to be perfect!” Which I guess is why I find it slightly disturbing that the United States government is still stuck in the old methods. How do we ever plan on communicating and actually having our messages understood if we just assume that people will always just understand? Why do we see that these old models do not and yet do nothing to fix them? I think that if we are going to make any headway in public diplomacy or in simply fixing our reputation abroad, the U.S. Government should possibly learn of the Pragmatic Complexity Model and learn to use it.


Source:  Corman, S., Trethewey, A., & Goodall, B. (2007). A 21st century model for communication in the global war of ideas . Informally published manuscript, Consortium for Strategic Communication, Arizona State University, Phoenix, Arizona.


Oh the (cyber) places you’ll go

I thought it fitting for our last class blog to discuss… the blog.

I came across this article in The Atlantic that compiles columns that appeared over ten years ago in mainstream newspapers trying to explain blogs when they first started being introduced.

Much of the commentary focuses on the elaborate interlinking of blogs – as written in a New York Times article in 2000, “Web logs (blogs) are elaborately cross-linked, with Web loggers (bloggers) reading and commenting upon one another’s sites, creating a kind of fragmented conversation.”  A network is born.

A piece from the LA Times (2002) notes, “the most popular bloggers build a sense of community by linking to each other and writing in a voice that cartwheels off the page, as a distinct alternative to what they see as the distant, establishment voice of newspaper journalists and others.”  Even at the start the importance of the network was noted and the resulting rise of a global public sphere and networked public voice.

In The New York Times (2002) it was described as “an online news commentary written, usually, by an ordinary citizen, thick with links to articles and other blogs.”  And, in The Wall Street Journal (2002) “thousands of independent information entrepreneurs are informing, arguing, adding information…. Blogs may one day become clearinghouses for civil support and information when other lines, under new pressure, break down.”  The author Peggy Noonan recognized the power that blogging was giving the average citizen in giving them a voice – being able to share the news that they found most relevant, add their opinion, and become as such a sort of news editor for their followers, dramatically altering the news media landscape.

Sure, in the beginning blogs seemed to be viewed merely as personal diaries published online and most of the writers weren’t concerned, however there were a few that questioned what the implications of blogs would be for the future of news media.

(Sounds kind of familiar to early criticism of Twitter as an “epic waste of time” and then debate on, “The First Twitter Revolution?“)

Throughout our course we have often talked about the changing environment for communication and what that means.  We have particularly focused, and especially in our last review session, on the diffusion of power as new means of communication provide more means for people to have more access to information and form new, powerful actors.

Going back to review the emergence of the “blog”, something that is so commonplace now in our gathering of information, reminds us of the shift we have gone through – in making news more accessible, empowering citizens either independently or as part of a network of non-state actors, subsequently shifting power away from nation-states and their media as the only sources of information.  Power becomes diffuse because the source of information is diffuse.  Now, the question is how these actors are going to function together or maybe, what we’ll come up with next.


It’s a Small World After All…

Now that I’ve gotten that song stuck in your head for eternity…

We’ve been talking about network theory for the past few weeks in class, so when I saw this article by Brian Carlson on the Public Diplomacy Council’s website I was absolutely fascinated. Apparently there is no longer “six degrees of separation” if you are a user of Facebook! Based on an analysis of 721 million users with 69 billion friendship links, Facebook users are an average of only 4.74 degrees away from any other user. Kind of mind-blowing, no?

Will they have to rename it the 4.7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

So what does this all mean? Brian Carlson and Ali Fischer believe that this has implications for Public Diplomacy, and I am inclined to agree. I think back to the PD conference we attended at GW a couple weeks ago (“The Last Three Feet”), where Jean Manes presented about an exchange program for teenagers in Brazil. Though the program is small, the organizers thought strategically and decided to pick one student from each province to participate. Though the program is small, they assumed that each participant would have on average 600 Facebook friends. The hope is that if the exchange student has a positive experience and writes about it on Facebook, it will have a secondary positive effect on the user’s friends. Picking people from different areas of the country makes it less likely that the friend networks will overlap, thus ensuring maximum impact. If the program works as planned, a small exchange program can have a big effect due to amplification through Facebook!

Of course, the 4.74 degrees of separation only applies to Facebook users, bringing up the question of digital divide. According to this data, Facebook users are concentrated in North America, Europe, Latin America, and Australia/Oceania. What about people in Asia, Africa and the Middle East? Is it that they do not have access to the internet, or are they instead using alternative social networks? If they do, perhaps there are even less than 4.74 degrees of separation there. Is it really necessary that everyone joins Facebook? Questions abound!

P.S. Additional reading about social media in Brazil!

Soft Power and Bush

After reading Nye this week, I thought a lot about the role of soft power and our own public diplomacy in the United States. As a United States citizen who has traveled abroad quite frequently, I have seen this strange dichotomy in which the youth of some foreign nations fawn over American culture, but at the same time, absolutely detest it. When I was in Costa Rica, the people there would dress in clothing that are popular here in the United States, those that spoke English knew a good bit of American slang, and several popular American television shows were talked about. Granted, I was inside a bit of a “bubble” when I was in Costa Rica, as I was there to assist in the making of documentary films. I’m aware that saying “the people in Costa Rica were interested in _______” is a harsh generalization. But at the same time, these people I worked with are affluent people within Costa Rica’s society. Does that make them icons of cultural attainment within Costa Rica, or merely unknowing pawns of United States public diplomacy? Would that attachment to American culture still be the same if Bush were hypothetically still in office (Thank God for term limits).

I think that for a foreign culture to permeate a country there needs to be a lack of culture in place in that country, or at least not a strong footing for national culture. Of all the times I’ve been in the United Kingdom, I’d have to say that their culture is quite different from ours, and they often veer away from anything that is deemed too American. I remember an instance in 2006 when I went to visit Scotland for “Hogmanay” (New Years) in Edinburgh. I had gone out with some friends to several bars and clubs throughout the night, and almost every bouncer harangued me about my United States citizenship, and inquired if I was going to have George Bush come and drop a bomb. I think that George Bush really diminished our soft power within other Western super powers. I think that much of Europe, during the Bush administration, saw our country as foolish and aggressive.

I recalled reading this article in the Guardian several years ago, when Bush was ready to exit the White House. It’s an interesting read if you have the time. It examines the perspectives of several different authors, many born and raised outside of the United States, in respect to George Bush.



Also, these simple graphs were taken from the Pew Global Research Center.


O my captain?

In a time when globalization is more than imminent and people from all over the globe are connecting in new ways, there is no possible way that we can expect success from a movie that is too blatantly “American.”

I know what you’re thinking, Chris Evans is hot.  And yes, he is, but he’s bringing attention to something even more important.  He’s bringing attention to the new nature of media- that’s too much in the favor of one country or another.  But it’s simple.

After working on a project that spoke to true and relative success of one media platform over another- I realize that we all have to be conscientious of what is going to appeal to a global audience.  We cannot keep doing what we’re doing and expect people to actually like us if we’re pushing our ideas on someone else.

And yes, I KNOW what you’re thinking: It’s a story of a triumphant underdog, one who works and works to come out on top.

I’m not discounting the validity of his story…I’m just asking why the movie had to portray one more example of America beating an enemy.  As if our image isn’t tarnished enough.

As Sooyun brought up in class, this is an epic failure of trying to translate this concept into one global audiences may enjoy…Especially because, as we know, translations are tricky.


This Huffington Post article really delves deeper into this to say what happens when you think of only your own country’s preferences.

I’m all for seeing a ripped Chris Evans, and I’m definitely all for superhero, action-filled movies, but I have to wonder why this movie had to be released in order for Americans to feel superior in one more way.


The Effect of Al-Jazeera

Class this last week was another one that was rather interesting. Professor Hayden was out, but Professor Kelly stepped into to make sure that we still had a lecture. This class was actually rather interesting primarily due to the movie we watched in class. It was a PBS Frontline movie called, War of Ideas. The main focus of this film was on the rise of the media stations in the Middle East and how the United States in particular was reacting to them.

It was actually quite amusing to watch Americans “freak out” slightly about Al-Jazeera. What I am mainly referring to here is a scene in which the reporter/narrator meets with a gentleman from Accuracy in Media and we see the man talking about how he was sending letters to cable providers who refused to carry Al-Jazeera. We later discussed this event in class and how it is actually a bit of a disservice to not allow the American public access to Al-Jazeera. A point which two members of the military who appear in the movie agreed.

It’s quite obvious by this brief description that the movie itself is old as Al-Jazeera can now be found in the United States and it could always be found online. But, the gentleman from Accuracy in Media reminded me of one of the readings we had for this week. “Al-Jazeera English and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue?” written by Shawn Powers and Mohammed el-Nawawy looked at the effect that Al-Jazeera English had on viewers. The gentleman (I wish I could remember his name) argued pretty vividly that Al-Jazeera was solely a “mouthpiece” for Al-Qaeda and as such should not be watched because it would corrupt the minds of people. But, in this study Powers and el-Nawawy found that those who ended up watching Al-Jazeera English were watching Al-Jazeera English to reinforce what they already believed. “In the same way that viewers tune into particular broadcasters for information that will affirm their pre-existing opinions, they also seek out broadcasters that prioritize international issues that they are particularly concerned with” (Powers and el-Nawawy, 2009, p. 278).

The results that Powers and el-Nawawy found did not really surprise me and I almost feel that the gentleman from Accuracy in Media was not thinking of this when he was sending letters and asking for Al-Jazeera to never actually make it into America. I kind of wonder if he would have reacted the same way had he known that the only people watching Al-Jazeera English would be those who already disagreed with what the U.S. was doing in the Middle East?



Powers, S., & El-Nawawy, M. (2009). Al-jazeera english and global news networks: clash of civilizations or cross-cultural dialogue?. Media, War and Conflict, 2(3), 263-284. doi: 10.1177/1750635209345185

Poor, Depressed America

Poor Lady Liberty has an inferiority complex

US domestic news has gotten me down recently, and it seems as if I’m not the only one. A Pew Center report issued last week reports for that only 49% of Americans surveyed agreed that “our people are not perfect but our culture is superior to others.” This is down from 60% in 2002. It’s not hard to speculate on reasons for the decline. Since 2002 we have been plagued with two expensive and not overly successful wars, our economy is in big trouble, unemployment is high and political leaders on both sides have proven themselves completely inept. Gosh, I got depressed just writing that sentence!

Public diplomacy scholar that I am, it makes me wonder what effect this pessimistic attitude will have on public diplomacy. Americans have a reputation of having a superiority complex, but maybe this is more perception than fact. For instance, according to this NYT opinion piece, young adults in Germany, Spain and Britain have higher opinions of their country than do young Americans (at least we still have better self-esteem than the French!). On one hand, I am distressed. How are we supposed to sell ourselves to the world if we don’t even believe in ourselves? On the other, I wonder if acknowledging our fallibility may improve our image in the world. We spoke in class Thursday about how a State Department official was applauded a few years ago for making self-deprecating comments about the US on foreign television. Is this a good tactic for outreach, making us seem more “human,” or is it showing a lack of confidence in our own policy? I’m really not sure what the answer is. Any thoughts?


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