Friday, April 16, 2010

Slipping through the Net

We've all heard the claim that public diplomacy benefits from modern ICTs that facilitate rapid mass communication. But such praise is almost always accompanied by caveats, from Hillary Clinton's January address at the Newseum to James Glassman's speech at the New America Foundation.

Laying aside the inherent value of Internet freedom unto itself, let's ask the PD question: How accurate is the assumption that increased Internet freedom will lead to greater support for U.S. diplomatic goals like support for U.S. governance?

I set out to test this theory, assuming that if Internet usage does, in fact, support PD, nations with higher Internet use rates would be more likely to approve of U.S. governance. I used Gallup-Meridian data to measure the percentage of a country's population that approves of U.S. leadership. To measure Internet access, I turned to the International Telecommunication Union. I'll spare you the statistical jargon, but the countries with a higher percentage of Internet users were actually less likely to approve of U.S. governance--at least in 2008, which is the year I tested.

This could be because increased connectivity provides more opportunities for people to engage online with America's detractors. Or it could be entirely irrelevant--because soft power is so hard to measure, because approval of U.S. governance isn't static across time (or administrations), because public diplomacy takes so long to make its effects known, because so many other factors are at play...

If there truly is a negative correlation between Internet access and approval of U.S. governance, it would behoove the United States to figure out why and how to avoid it. If nothing else, my numbers add a few more caveats on the PD 2.0 fire--one more reminder to be skeptical of unbridled optimism for new technology.

1 comment:

  1. Laura,

    This is an interesting hypothesis to test. I am skeptical that it can be shown that the two are directly related, but would be interested to see more of the work that you did to investigate this.