Social Network Diplomacy

In our last class, our guest professor Robert Kelley told us about a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine called Twitter vs. the KGB.  Not only was the story an interesting example of the use of social media, but I think it also was a great way to put into context the themes we have been discussing all semester long about how information technology and networks are transforming the public sphere, with significant implications on public diplomacy and global governance.

It’s worth a read but just in case here’s the quick summary.  The article tells the story of Nic Tanner, a photographer living in Kyrgyzstan, in the middle of post-election conflict, who while filming a protest gets approached by some Kyrgyz men claiming they are KGB, (national security), who ask for his passport. He calls an American friend for help, who helps him think of ways to stall.  When he starts running out of options a friend reaches the US embassy where the officer gives him the advice to “tweet it” (what’s going on) and within minutes the conflict is resolved.

Twitter and other social media are usually highlighted for their power to mobilize civilian activism, but this article’s focus on Twitter was different.   Professor Kelly’s point in telling the story was to illustrate the shift occurring in public diplomacy action from the official agent to the network (in this case, the network of people tweeting and responding).  Not only do civilians become more empowered by networks, but the speed at which the network comes together is ever increasing with technology. As a result networked action through social media becomes more efficient and potentially effective than the governance systems or diplomacy efforts we have in place currently.  In this instance, citizens as a network could problem solve just by re-tweeting a post, which takes seconds, rather than the lengthy process that would be required of an officer or government system to get involved.  Going back to the Public Diplomacy conference we attended a few weeks back and the critique by many of the students, I think this story further exemplifies the need for public diplomacy conversations to include more of the actors that are increasingly involved in its processes.



Global Media and Perceptions

After reading El-Nawawy this week, I have come to question my own background in journalism. A part of me wants to believe that journalism is altruistic, and the vehicle through which knowledge transfer occurs. But another part of me, call in cynical if you will, knows that profits and page-views are becoming the catalyst for what is reported on, and how it is reported. I thought that El-Nawawy’s arguments about global media being less about telling a story from all sides, but rather about stories and news reporting being an extension of our respective cultural beliefs, was an excellent assessment. I think that to truly appreciate what El-Nawawy was saying, it’s best to look at how two different international media outlets report on the same topic.

I also think that what news we watch is attached to a cultural value set. People associate different belief systems and values with a particular news outlet.

Now, just because I like to have a little fun when I’m reading, I’d like to share with you some comments I found on a thread about the differences between Aljazeera English and CNNI, which can be found here.×2704101


My personal favorites are:

  • “A: CNN shows the cruise missles taking off.
    Al-Jazeera shows them landing.”


  • “CNN shows them landing with a wide angle, from far away.

    Al-Jazeera shows what happens when they land.

    Don’t forget, Americans like to see things blow up.

    We just don’t like to know that bad things happen when things blow up.”




And as much as I appreciate Candy Crowley’s commentary, this did catch my attention.


  • “Al-Jazeera doesn’t have to purchase Candy Crowley’s wardrobe at the DC tent and awning company or have to provide her a box of krispy kreme donuts per hour.”


So, to me, it seems as though those in the international community see CNNI as an extension of our American values and belief systems… and, according to one commenter, our dietary habits.

But the thing that struck me in El-Nawawy’s paper was this quote he takes from an executive at Aljazeera English.

“We were in Myanmar exclusively during the tensions last year. We covered Gaza from within Gaza by Gazan correspondents. We looked into why Gazans are united behind Hamas despite the suffering. These kinds of stories are not easily covered by other media. It’s not an accusation [against other media]. It’s about the elements of perceiving the knowledge, the know-how when it comes to covering the story and producing it. It’s not there in Western media, but we have invested in people by bringing more than 40 ethnic backgrounds and nationalities represented in the staff.”



Is the media only about satisfying an audience now?

As we talk about ‘The Tipping Point,’ and ‘brand ambassadors,’ I wonder it is that makes one person the trendsetter. How is that there are people who know exactly what looks good on them, what will look good on others, and what will pick up?

In the communication circles, we talk about this often. The group presentation on Thursday reminded me of those sleepovers when we were younger…You know the ones, where the ‘cool’ girls all got together and braided each other’s hair and watched rated-R movies because their parents didn’t really care. The same ones who later were the ones who sneaked in drugs/alcohol to school dances without getting caught. Those reminders of social boundaries came up a lot.

But then, how do we address that? The group showed a lot of ways that we are constantly being pushed into advertisements, often ones we can’t even discern as such, and what kind of services or goods pick up the fastest. Do we, in our advertisements, address the select few then that carry on the trend? Or do we address the great majority?

As we talk about media, how do movies usually make it big? A few weeks ago, I read the book Something Borrowed. (Yes, you can judgment fox me for it.) The ending was a clearly-written-for-movie-audiences adaptation and I shuddered as I read it. I hadn’t expected something revolutionary, but surely something slightly in line with the rest of the book. However, that movie spread, quickly when it was in theatres…And I don’t think it’s because certain people watched it or had read the book. I think it’s because the ending was already in place for a movie.

And, yes, John Krasinski was totally not cool in middle school…But now, his movies spread like wildfire.


Reaction to too much reaction

When looking at this class, I initially thought we’d be talking a lot about the theories behind communication and why it is so necessary to have an open dialogue with other countries.

In fact, we do talk about that but only briefly.  We talk much more about media and our perceptions of what’s happening and how the media shapes that.

I really like how Hafez addresses this in his article.  When he talks about how sports are really a universal thing-minus curling (which, of course it isn’t…)- and garner more audience members than usual, I found myself nodding along.  And with sports, even though commentators make a lot of money, the reason they probably do a lot better is because they are also a visual medium.

When thinking about this difference in reporting, then, it’s essential to remember the BBC.  Even CNN as it is broadcast in the States is slightly more left.  But the BBC prides itself on its neutrality especially when applied to international conflicts.  To someone studying international communication, I hope to do the same.  Why is it that prejudices have such prevalence in media, though?  Nobody bats an eye anymore that Americans have several different news outlets, some known for bashing other Americans.  It’s strange that while American media started out as  a tool of public diplomacy, lately, it’s only the communication specialists who remember that…The rest just watch the same news outlets to get the watered-down or overly-fiery ‘news.’


“I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

Now, I know what you must be thinking. Why are there two striped mugs at the top of this post? What could they possibly have to do with anything we have talked about in this International Communication class? Well, the answer is that unless you already know what they mean they are in fact useless. For me, these two seemingly ordinary mugs are representative of the fandom that I’m involved in online. They are inside jokes that only I get. But, to anyone else they are just two striped mugs.

So, what’s the point of starting this blog post off with an inside joke? Now that answer actually relates back to some of the discussion we were having in class. Meng’s article, ” From Steamed Bun to Grass Mud Horse: E Gao as alternative political discourse on the Chinese Internet” discusses the way that Chinese citizens are using e gao as ways to express political sentiments without actually being politics like using alternate words to substitute words that are being censored by the Chinese government.

One that we talked about in class for example is the use of “River Crab” to mean “harmony” as they are spelled the same and can only be differentiated when spoken. What makes it even more comical is that “harmony” was being used as a code to mean “censorship” before the Chinese government figured out what was going on and censored the word “harmony”. The enemy of the river crab is the grass mud horse, which when pronounced differently roughly translates to my father’s favorite phrase “F-You”. The phrase “Grass Mud Horse” has also become a phrase used among the Chinese on the Internet.

To me, the idea of using online video spoofs, phrases and things that could be considered entertainment to get around the censorship of the government is a rather brilliant idea. However, it makes me wonder how long this can be kept up. Eventually, I feel that the government is going to figure out how political views continue to be expressed even though they are supposedly being censored. This situation sort of reminds me of children playing on facebook when their parents join. They begin using acronyms like “wtf” and “lol”, but eventually the parents catch on.

I mean, nothing stays secret long on the Internet. Not endings to televisions shows or films, so who is to say that the Chinese government aren’t continuously trying to decode the phrases and create new reasons for the censorship? I guess the point I’m getting at here is that while I’m extremely impressed by the ingenuity of the Chinese people to infuse popular culture with political discourse, I feel like it’s a constant chase to stay ahead of the government and the censorship that is almost inevitable.



Meng, B. (2011). From steamed bun to grass mud horse: E gao as alternative political discourse on the chinese internet. Global Media and Communication, 7(33), 33-51. doi: 10.1177/1742766510397938

New media new governance

In our focus on networks and politics I found the article “Google Earth and the nation-state: Sovereignty in the age of new media” by Sangeet Kumar particularly interesting.  The power of large MNCs is nothing new, but the rules seem to be changing with the rise of large global companies that are information-based and networked, operating without regard to national physical boundaries in the interest of delivering a global public good.

As Kumar describes  “Google has 450,000 servers located in about 25 locations, is available in 112 languages and provides 159 country-specific portals….Its might arises not from military capabilities, such as standing armies or physical power, but intellectual capital – a crucial arbiter of power in the information age.” (Kumar, 2010)

The networked structure of these companies makes them increasingly difficult to govern since they are less identifiable with any one nation, any material goods and their products flow freely across national boundaries among the nodes of their network.  Whereas the large retail MNCs had a clear identification with the nation they were based in and a tangible product, companies such as Google are more difficult to challenge because they don’t seem representative of any one nation’s interest but rather are in the interest of making the world better, and producing a global public good, information.  As a result they are more difficult to challenge.  Can we even imagine a world now without Google?

There seemed to be more backlash against the power of retail MNCs because it was perceived that they were using their power to their advantage and bending the rules to further their interest.  However, it is interesting that the same fear doesn’t seem to be as prevalent with these large media companies.  Yet they are also using their power to their benefit because after all they are companies, with an interest in making their company grow.

For example, Kumar discusses Google’s concession to the Indian government in the Google Earth-India controversy as essentially good PR.  “The timing [of the concession] showed that the company sought to capitalize on the controversy, and use it to send out a positive message in order to further its commercial interests… This voluntary concession on its part was more an attempted gesture of goodwill than acquiescence to pressure from the Indian government.” (Kumar, 2010)

It seems that these large media entities actually wield some power over nation-states and only succumb to their demands in order to mitigate bad press, in the interest of the good of their company, hiding under the guise of doing the world a good service.  As Kumar argues, Google did not have to heed the Indian governments’ complaints, it decided to make changes, and arguably for its own interest.

There is a culture around these companies that they are admirable and making our world a better place, and so we don’t seem to worry as much about the scope of their power.  However, maybe this is changing.  On top of US complaints about Facebook privacy policies, Germany is also bringing a lawsuit against the company related to privacy issues that don’t comply with the regulations inside its sovereign territory.   It will be interesting to see how these battles play out as an answer to the future of global governance.  Is there any way to regulate these large companies or is this just our changing global landscape and nation-states must step aside and invite them in to global governance?

It also begs the question, is it ok to let these companies, like Google, have this much power because they are positively impacting our world or do we need to find a way to better regulate them?



Sangeet Kumar, “Google Earth and the nation-state: Sovereignty in the age of new media” Global Media and Communication 2010 6: 154.

Nations as Brands

Often I find that the topics I study in one class cross over into another. So today I am going to borrow from the topic du jour of my Cross-Cultural Communications class with Professor Chin: tourism. We talked about the history of the tourist industry and how we are moving away from mass tourism (think stereotypical bus tour) to niche market tourism (medical truism, ecotourism etc). What I want to look at today however is something we touched upon briefly but did not really discuss: how nations brand themselves as tourist destinations! I’ve been amusing myself this evening by looking at various official tourism campaigns. Some are funny, while others are just bad.

Here are two of my favorites:

Costa Rica has decided to use an animated sloth to tell potential North American tourists of the wonders of the country. I’m not sure if a talking sloth is a credible source of information about tourism, but the video does make me laugh!

Inspired by Iceland Invitations from Inspired By Iceland on Vimeo.

Iceland is taking a unusually personal approach to attracting tourists. President Grimsson has gotten involved in Iceland’s most recent tourism campaign by inviting tourists to join him for pancakes (!) at his home and encourages his fellow Icelanders to do the same. Icelanders have taken his call seriously- the “Inspired by Iceland” website posts actually invitations to people’s homes. I must admit that I find this campaign rather charming!

And now for our tourism campaign Hall of Shame:

Australia‘s “Where the Bloody Hell Are You?” campaign was a disaster. England refused to show the commercial because it used the word “bloody” and ordered the complementary billboards to be taken down; Canada was concerned about the alcohol and use of the word “hell”. Parodies were made to pillory Australia’s treatment of aborigines and other ethnicities. Ultimately the campaign received a ton of publicity but failed to attract tourists.

Tunisia attempts to find humor in its unstable political situation in its new tourism campaign. One poster in London (above) features a woman getting a massage with the caption, “They say that in Tunisia some people receive heavy-handed treatment”. Another one shows archeological sites and says that Tunisia is “nothing but ruins.” I see that they’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons, but really guys?! I can’t say that this campaign is successful in making me want to visit Tunisia.

Anyone have other good tourism campaigns to share?


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