Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Rage (or Reason) Against the Machine

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NPR had a fabulous story on communication, counter-terrorism and public diplomacy this morning. I'll summarize below, but I highly recommend visiting the source.

The story discusses the dual nature of information and communication technologies, citing examples where they've been used to promote and challenge democracy--and terrorism as well.

It also discusses "credible messengers," or people like Carie Lemack (the daughter of a 9/11 victim) or Abdullah Kemal Sharayed (a former al Qaida operative) whose perceived credibility enables them to reach out to potentially marginalized groups and counter misconceptions and conspiracy theories. This is seen as part of a larger fight against terrorism and the misinformation available online.

The key to their success is their perceived credibility, and it speaks to the realization that public diplomacy cannot be carried out by governments alone--particularly in environments and among people where governments have little credibility.

I've been reading a lot lately on the theory (or lack thereof) of public diplomacy and the importance of credibility is a recurring theme. But another major theme is the difficulty in identifying PD's actors. There are many different perspectives on whether PD involves governments, militaries, citizens, NGOs or private sector reps--and even more perspectives on whether it should.

This story demonstrates that fuzziness surrounding that question beautifully. Here we have private citizens working with counter-terrorism officials and NGOs to promote a shared foreign policy goal (discouraging terrorism) in a multi-national context. It's a mess.

But nobody ever said international affairs was a straightforward business.

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