About the Author: Mark J. Davidson serves as Director of the Policy and Planning Staff for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
Last week, I became a regular on the last bus home, just before midnight. I didn't mind the long hours, though, because I was spending my time with a fun and talented group of people working on what we like to call 21st century diplomacy. I was part a diverse team that came together to ensure that people around the world could hear what Secretary Clinton had to say on Internet freedom.
In her major policy address last Thursday, Secretary Clinton said, “We need to work toward a world in which access to networks and information brings people closer together and expands the definition of the global community.” She reminded us of the increasing interconnectedness of the global community of which we are all a part" and the stake we all have in ensuring everyone can use the Internet freely.
Our team was a multi-generational mix of tech gurus, political campaign veterans, civil service professionals, and Foreign Service officers (that is to say, diplomats) like me. It embraced both digital natives and more, shall we say, “traditional” types (that would also be me). We partnered with colleagues at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world to make the Secretary's speech accessible and meaningful to people in just about every country on earth. Here are just some of the ways we shared Secretary Clinton's message and encouraged debate and discussion.
We invited pioneers in Internet freedom from countries such as Moldova, Lebanon, Iran, Turkey, Colombia, and China to come to Washington to attend the speech in person and meet U.S. counterparts afterward. Most of them live-blogged and tweeted the speech and their other meetings to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
We live-streamed the speech and a follow-on panel discussion at the Newseum onto State.gov, America.gov, Facebook, and U.S. embassy websites in every region of the globe.
Our Facebook pages hosted lively discussions with overseas audiences, and we blogged and tweeted on Internet freedom in multiple languages.
We set up real-time webchats to allow anyone anywhere with an Internet connection the chance to participate by commenting, interacting with others, and posing questions. Over 40,000 people joined in the largest such “virtual” event the State Department has ever done.
We translated and disseminated the speech in seven languages, including Arabic, Chinese, French, Persian, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu.
In addition, U.S. embassies overseas from Moscow to Manama to Montevideo merged the high-tech with the high-touch by hosting speech-watching parties with bloggers, entrepreneurs, students, and other cutting-edge host-country leaders
At one of our embassies in the Middle East, 40 prominent guests listened to the Secretary's speech and engaged in a lively discussion of such topics as government control of the Internet and freedom of expression -- issues on which little public debate is permitted in their own society. At another embassy, a large group of bloggers and activists loudly cheered when the Secretary mentioned the plight of bloggers imprisoned for their activities. Positive tweets and blog entries from the Chinese “netizens” we invited to the embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai and Guangzhou reached millions of their countrymen and women.
People heard what she had to say. We've already seen a tremendous amount of global commentary on the speech, overwhelmingly positive, but with some critical official voices from places where freedom of expression remains an aspiration. To quote the Secretary, “On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.”
In this global debate, I think that's a pretty good place for our nation to stand. Helping get the word out was worth those late-night bus rides home.
Related entry: Internet Freedom