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Review Of U.S. Public Diplomacy


Protesters used the internet during the 2011 popular uprising in Egypt. (file)

In a world where power and influence truly belongs to the many, the United States must engage with more people in more places.

"In a world where power and influence truly belongs to the many, we must engage with more people in more places," U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith McHale said in a recent speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. "[This] is the essential truth of public diplomacy in the internet age."

For most of human history, power has been held by the privileged few sitting atop a widening base of people in a pyramid of systematic social control. In the internet age, the pyramid has been upended: Wide tiers of people, their arms raised in active participation, narrowed to a point. The pyramid of power flipped because people all around the world are clamoring to be heard, and demanding to shape their own futures.

"For many years we looked at foreign publics through a political or an economic lens," Secretary McHale said. "We aimed for the top of the pyramid – for political, military, and labor leaders, and the economic elite; which means we missed the young, the unaffiliated, the unemployed, and anyone else who didn’t fit neatly into one of those boxes. We missed some of the very people who are driving the change we see all around us."

There are also many lone extremists and extremist groups who pump their ideas into circulation as easily as legitimate activists.

"These new challenges force us to ask: How do we stand out and respond in such a crowded and complex environment?" Secretary McHale continued."Our answer is simple: By taking our public diplomacy into the marketplace of ideas."

"If we want to be part of the deliberations, we must go to them. We must be out there in as many ways as possible, and at every hour of every day," Secretary McHale concluded. "Being in the marketplace of ideas means using the same venues and platforms that communities and activists use. . . To proactively engage with global media, and to push back against inaccurate information. To tell our own story where others are telling stories about us."

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