By Anthony DiFlorio
On January 29, the Embassy of Italy in Washington, D.C., hosted a panel of digitally connected journalists, activists, and United Nations and United States Department of State personnel entitled “Diplomacy in the Participatory Age.” As an ongoing installment of its Digital Diplomacy Series, the discussion highlighted the emerging role that the internet, social media, and greater interconnectivity between peoples has on domestic statecraft and international diplomacy.
Italian Ambassador to the United States Claudio Bisogniero, opened the conversation to an audience of keen students, academics, and government officials who were all invited to tweet, post, upload, share, tag, hashtag, and blog about the series.
“We are very proud of what we do in digital diplomacy and related issues and the things that the Embassy does on the web and with social media,” Mr. Bisogniero explained, “and our digital diplomacy series has truly become an open forum on opportunities, on best practices, on challenges. A platform to discuss the definition of engagement and the role of innovation and technology in our work.”
Following opening remarks, the discussion was guided by senior reporter at Foreign Policy magazine John Hudson who took the opportunity to prompt panelists on their individual work in digital diplomacy, engagement, and organizing, allowing an organic conversation of ideas and experiences to emerge.
Moira Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy at the U.S. Department of State, discussed the role that the agency has recently assumed in online counterterrorism towards the Islamic State and
“cyber jihadists” through strategic social media campaigns. Launched by State in December 2013, the Think Again Turn Away Twitter account has received both praise and criticism for its ambition to engage moderate Muslims who are on the fence regarding jihad. “You can’t win the war of ideas if you aren’t participating,” Ms. Whelan said.
ONE Campaign Digital Director Garth Moore explored the massive social media platform that the ONE Campaign has on the African continent and the ways it promotes citizen-level engagement with activism, especially in areas which do not have readily available internet access. “The smartphone is growing in Africa, so what we did is go to SMS for signing petitions and adding comments,” Mr. Moore said, referring to a large-scale agriculture campaign petitions. “[We used] new social channels, new media partners working within different realms. You really have to diversify channels in order to try to reach a lot of different peoples that you’re not always going to get through a hashtag or through Facebook.”
The event in its entirety may be viewed on the Italian Embassy’s YouTube page.