Week 14

Alicia M. Cohen revealed that the U.S. State Department has put an end to America.gov–a digital project established in 2008 to promote Democracy in foreign countries. In its place, the State Department has initiated numerous social media projects. According to Cohen, this change in course has come largely as a result of the central role that social media has played in the Egyptian revolts during the Arab Spring. IIP Deputy Assistant Secretary Duncan MacInnes explained the need for teaching individuals how to write in a more concise manner – a process which he calls “chunk.” The government’s creating “packages” of social media material from articles and is disseminating the information on the Web via social networks (e.g. Facebook and Twitter).

Geneive Abdo mentions that in 2009, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps instigated a “cyber defense command to counter online political activism, making Facebook and Twitter inaccessible to those without filter proxies in the West.” Moreover, during the Arab Spring, the Egyptian government shut down the Internet in response to the widespread protests.

Question: As the U.S. welcomes greater involvement with social media, countries in the Middle East are becoming more wary. Do you think that the U.S. government’s increased role in social media will affect the use of social media in foreign countries? Furthermore, MacInnes has unearthed that the Internet is now comprised of approximately 70 percent foreign languages, compared to the 75 percent English makeup from three to four years ago. What accounts for this new phenomenon?

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1 Response to Week 14

  1. lily.yan says:

    I think there’s a lot of different angles to the question you’re asking. First, you can look at it the way you’ve posed it–the increase of Western governmental influence and control over social media can work more efficiently in countering authoritarian governments, be if that’s the case. But there’s another way to look at it as well; Cohen’s article can also be interpreted as a general phenomenon, that more governments globally are trying to acquire more knowledge on using social media to track what citizens are communicating to each other about, include that of non-democratic regimes. If governmental bodies can use these tools to the same if not better abilities than their citizens, would collective action need another outlet to manifest itself? Would social revolutions such as the one we’ve seen in Egypt still garner the same level of success? So I don’t think the main concern here is whether U.S. government’s increase of social media knowledge would necessarily be a benefit or hindrance to people of outside countries, but whether governmental bodies as a whole will change the topography of how these tools have aided in coordination, communication, and collective action.

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