Reflecting on 2011, it is obvious that connection technologies are playing an ever-greater role in shaping the world around us. The beginning of the year witnessed the events of the Arab Spring, with political movements organized and accelerated with the help of social media. This past fall, the world watched videos online that were captured on smart-phones by Syrian activists, documenting attacks on peaceful protests. The world watched as hundreds were injured and killed by their government for exercising their universal rights. And just weeks ago, demonstrations in Russia were organized online to protest allegations of election fraud, with social media influencers playing important roles.
As information networks become more ubiquitous and powerful, new movements and power structures are forming, others are being disrupted, and the speed of communications is making all of this take place at a blistering fast pace. Connection technologies are changing the ecology of politics and government.
In a speech last February, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reaffirmed the United States' commitment to Internet Freedom, the necessary backbone for people to be able to exercise their universal rights in an increasingly networked world. In her speech to a global audience, Secretary Clinton said:
"I urge countries everywhere instead to join us in the bet we have made, a bet that an open internet will lead to stronger, more prosperous countries. At its core, it's an extension of the bet that the United States has been making for more than 200 years, that open societies give rise to the most lasting progress, that the rule of law is the firmest foundation for justice and peace, and that innovation thrives where ideas of all kinds are aired and explored. This is not a bet on computers or mobile phones. It's a bet on people."
2011 also marked another major year advancing one of Secretary Clinton's signature initiatives, Civil Society 2.0. Civil Society 2.0 recognizes the important role civil society organizations play in empowering individuals to create change in their communities. Through this work, the State Department seeks to increase the effectiveness of civil society organizations working on a variety of issues by providing them with training in the latest technology tools to help facilitate those changes.
Participants learn how to use technology and integrate digital tools into their work. With new knowledge comes new capabilities -- and these groups are now better able to participate in the political process, visualize data to educate the public, communicate safely in restricted environments, and use mobile phones to create information networks among their members and the communities they serve.
We hosted five TechCamps in 2011. In June, Secretary Clinton participated in TechCamp Vilnius, which convened participants from 22 countries. One of the personal highlights of 2011 for me was introducing her to those seventy-five activists in Vilnius. The Secretary's excitement and engagement were obvious to everyone that was there.
To date, through TechCamps, we have trained more than 350 civil society organizations from more than 40 countries. Currently, we are planning several TechCamps aimed at helping to build capacity for civil society organizations working in education, women's empowerment, and open government.
As we begin 2012, we continue to celebrate the advances we have made in 21st Century Statecraft by hosting several different special events throughout January. Each week, we are inviting people from around the world to submit questions through Twitter using the hashtag #AskState. State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland will respond to those questions during our Twitter Briefing each Friday in January.
I will be participating in a variety of activities myself. This week, I'll address the diplomatic corps at the Blair House and participate in a Live at State video chat with bloggers and journalists from around the world. On January 19, I'll hold a Twitter Q&A, and look forward to receiving your questions.
As we look ahead, 2012 will doubtless bring forward more innovations and advances in technology that we cannot yet foresee. Citizens around the world will continue to develop new and creative ways to engage one another and their governments. Here at the U.S. Department of State, we will continue to do our best to adapt our the practice of statecraft to account for these changes as we advance our diplomatic and development goals.
Happy New Year!
Editor's Note: You can watch Alec Ross's Live at State streamed on video.state.gov at 9:45 a.m. EST on Tuesday, January 10, 2012.