Monday, February 21, 2011

PD 2.0 and the Strength of Weak Ties

Perhaps it's simply a reflection of my narcissism, but I keep finding connections between the readings and my day-to-day life.

This week it was the PD 2.0 article, which had some eerie parallels with a paper I wrote last year on the disadvantages of unidirectional U.S. broadcasting in Iraq and Afghanistan. (I've linked to it here just in case this blog and our weekly classes are insufficient to satisfy your no doubt unslakable thirst for my opinions on public diplomacy.) Essentially, the paper talks about the historical U.S. tendency to employ unidirectional communication in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the problems that accompany that--most significantly that it results in a tendency for all parties to view the other as less legitimate, thereby undermining communication success. That's a 30-page paper in a nutshell right there. It loses some of its nuance in the truncation.

Khatib and co haven't really convinced me that the Digital Outreach Team is the solution, and I don't think they intended to. As they note, the DOT are up against a lot of challenges, and a small, reactive, government-sponsored body isn't strong enough to force a sea change in opinions that have been long formed by attitudes toward U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The authors suggest that greater cohesion between words and deeds in that policy would do a lot more to change attitudes, and I think there's sense in that argument, but it also got me thinking about one of the other writings, namely Malcolm Gladwell's on Why the Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted.

Full disclosure here, I'm a big time Gladwell fan, ever since reading Six Degrees of Lois Weisberg. But, bias aside, I think this essay makes a really great distinction between weak and strong ties and the actions to which they're best suited. Weak ties, Gladwell says, are best adapted to influencing the flow of information and ideas. This is the DOT's realm. But strong ties are necessary to promote the changes that translate into action, and that's beyond the DOT's reach. So the DOT and other social media may be useful in introducing new ideas into the public sphere, but those new ideas are unlikely to translate into meaningful change without some help from trusted people on the ground.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Laura. Gladwell says: "...if you’re taking on a powerful and organized establishment you have to be a hierarchy."

    Recent example: the Brotherhood's role in the Egypt revolt. They came late to the party but enabled it to continue. See the PBS Frontline videos and GlobalPost reports by Robert Sennott.