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  • The U.S. State Department Wants to Hear from You

    In its ongoing search for solutions to U.S. public diplomacy challenges – some might call it a deficit – the State Department has launched yet another new Internet venture, a social website called Opinion Space. At a time when Internet censorship in countries like Iran, Cuba and China present a profound challenge to freedom of expression, the State Department is focusing its resources in the wrong direction.

    The Internet is a great public diplomacy tool, but only when used as part of a strategy support U.S. policy goals such as democracy, freedom and human rights. Doing so could actually have a huge impact on the international political landscape. While the State Department is launching new social websites, Internet games and video contests, funding appropriated by Congress for cyber technology that can break down authoritarian firewalls has been trickling out of the State Department at snail’s pace. This is putting an exciting new public diplomacy tool to the wrong uses.

    Opinion Space is produced in collaboration with the Berkley University Center for New Media. It certainly has the flavor of novelty. In Opinion Space, as the website says, you are not bound by physical location, but identified by your opinions. The website explains:

    The U.S. Department of State is interested in your perspectives and input on a series of important foreign policy questions. ‘Opinion Space’ is a new discussion forum designed to engage participants from around the world.

    Every participant chooses a ‘point of view’ on a global opinion map. Your position is not based on geography or predetermined categories, but on similarity of opinion: those who agree on basic issues are neighbors, those who are far apart have agreed to disagree. You can instantly see where you stand in relation to other participants; by reviewing their comments, you help the community highlight the most insightful ideas.

    According to Katie Dowd, New Media Director at the Department of State, the site which has been up since March 15, now has about 4,000 users globally.

    Sounding cool counts for a lot at the State Department these days. The team of young professionals assembled by Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale are a constant source of new ideas . One of them recently described the ideas that come out of the department’s brainstorming sessions: “It is a bit like throwing spaghetti at a wall, you see what sticks.”

    One question that might be asked is whether the information gathered on Opinion Space will used in the formation of public diplomacy techniques and strategy, another whether this will in any way further the comprehension abroad of the policies and priorities of the U.S. government or the understanding of the United States as a country. It is not clear that if the website will do any of this.

    Most importantly, though, the strength of the Internet is the free flow of information and connections between individuals, something that political dissidents living under oppressive regimes find invaluable. The Congress has appropriated $30 million for Internet circumvention for FY 2010, of which only a small portion has been spent by the State Department’s office of Democracy, Labor and Human Rights. As Iran is becoming a target for growing international criticism, including at the U.N. Human Rights Council, devoting U.S. resources and ingenuity to helping its citizens should be the focus of our public diplomacy, not gimmicky new State Department websites.

    Posted in International [slideshow_deploy]

    7 Responses to The U.S. State Department Wants to Hear from You

    1. West Texan says:

      Obama's poor performance as our nation's president has damaged both domestic and foreign confidence. Looks like Hilary's effort may be an attempt to gain political points for her boss. Believe me, people's opinions don't count here. Unless of course there is something that can be used to prosecute. My advice, "you have the right to remain silent".

    2. Billie says:

      they hear from us, plenty. this is only a way towards their agenda. also admission to their play on ignorance. More waste of money and a false mentality that anyone who isn't government, has any value.

      whatever is suggested that promotes freedom which benefits, motivates, inspires most, will be used against us by the misinterpretation, distortion, or ignorance of government. This is just a set-up, not in the best interest of freedom loving people.

    3. MFEZ, Pittsburgh PA says:

      What a double edged sword. We all know that this administration is trying to accumulate infomration on all of its 'dissidents', so logging into this space and telling them what we, as conservatives think – well we could shut down the servers with conservative speak. Yet then we would all be marked in cyberspace.

      The alternative is to stay away and only leftist kooks put their Obamathink information and ideas out htere and voila – the administration has a site to point to that 'proves' they are doing wnat the people want….

      Say a prayer for 2012 or we are doomed.

    4. b & t flyover co says:

      Nobody in government really wants to hear from me and I know it. Do you think I'm stupid and delusional and think for a minute that they give a whit about what I think? No! They don't!

      I will take the photo op of the smiling Nancy Pelosi carrying her gavel through the crowd of tea party attendees all of the rest of my days. It will be the last thing I see before I die.

      When people applaud health care "reform", I feel they are applauding my demise.

      I have posted this already today, I will regurgitate it one more time here:

      Iran is important. The oil spill is important. The escalating unsustainable debt is important. Israel is important. Our sovereignty is important, our borders, too.

      But I gotta tell you — and if you think I have a bad attitude and am a less than "great" American, OK — you're entitled to your opinion just as I am entitled to mine.

      For me, it just all boils down to health care. I want it back. For all of us. I don't want to give up the health care benefits that came with my pension that I worked for my entire life. And I don't want it rationed. That's all I care about. All. I. Care. About.

      I used to listen to talk radio and watch Fox — Rush, Sean, Greta, Glenn Beck — and I joined Heritage….and Right to Life…..but nowadays if the show doesn't speak to me about us getting back our health care, I turn off the radio and TV. If the circulars that I get in the mail from heritage ask for more $$ I pitch them. Right to Life seems (IMHO) only interested in stopping abortion. Don't get me wrong. I believe abortion to be a grave evil…..but I also believe it is evil to ration my health care and the health care of other seniors and those suffering from expensive illnesses!!! Many of us paid into the Medicare system all our working lives. Now we are supposed to just "get over it" when the care becomes rationed?

      If it ain't about getting back our health care, I just plain don't care.

      Never thought I would be a one issue person, but that is exactly what I have become.

      Get back our health care or go away.

      Without it, we are all so screwed.

    5. Ben C. Ann Arbor, MI says:

      If the website is the internet version of "Radio Free Europe" then I am all for it. If it is the precursor to "one world governence" then I am passionately opposed to it.

    6. Drew Page, IL says:

      The government doesn't want to hear from anyone who disagrees with them. That was made painfully clear during Townhall meetings with Senators and Congressmen and following Tea Party tax protests.

      Let the government know how you feel about them in November.

    7. Pingback: Fire Department Set of Two Pajamas for Infant Boys 18 Months | home equity loan compariso

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