What are we are missing out on?

Tonight’s presentation on Ethiopic language and its inclusion in Unicode presented an important element about the global digital divide because it asks the question: how can, even with access to information communication technologies and internet access, someone utilize technology if it is not available in their native language? In short, they can’t. This is an important element to consider in regard to technology and the reality of, to borrow from Laura DeNardis’s description, its architecture. As the group described in their literature related to their case study, the architecture of something has the power to include and exclude. The analogy we have used in class in class is that of bridges that are built low enough to prevent busses driving under them. In the case of Ethiopia, technology was created in a way that excludes the nation’s 90 languages because American companies created the technology in English with a western cultural perspective. Further, their commercial interests drive their actions, and there is no financial incentive to include languages in which there is no commercial demand.

Therefore, not only are these groups of people excluded from the benefits of technology, we are also denied the benefit of their knowledge. As the group noted, we “feel” like we are so much more connected, but cannot assume that the majority of the information is in English and unless everyone is able to put information in the digital realm, we are missing out. After this presentation, I cannot help but to believe that we are indeed missing out. Tonight we discussed Ethiopic, but what other languages are we missing out on? I also liked the question at the end of the presentation asking the question- what would the computer look like if it was created in a different culture. I agree that it would be different. Since the U.S. is such an individualistic culture, I cannot help but to believe that technology might be more communal if it was created in a different culture, and perhaps this communal nature would have enabled technology to be created with other languages and cultures in mind.

An Evaluation of Internet Policies and Power

“In today’s world, information is power, and policies on the flow of information shape economic, developmental, and societal outcomes” (Group 1).

internetcensorship

Group 1 made an excellent presentation of the immense amount of power in the hands of those that control the internet, as well as how that power shapes the rest of world.  Internet censorship is one of the ways governments are able to control the internet through available content in addition to laws that control individual speech and expression.

Russia is one government that chooses to enact censorship on a grandiose scale.  In 2012, the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media enacted the Blacklist Law which allowed the Russian government to censor websites that contain content deemed unsuitable for minors or containing extremist ideologies against the government.  Under these laws, if one page of a website is deemed unsuitable, the rest of the website is also eligible to be blacklisted.  If one blog post is deemed inappropriate, it’s likely the entire blog will be shutdown.  The websites that have been blacklisted are listed on the Roskomnadzor website.  According to Group 1’s presentation and RT, in 2014, “Facebook, Gmail and Twitter were warned by the Russian Government.”

Coincidentally, I recently attended a Freedom House forum on internet freedoms.  During that forum I heard two women – one from Azerbaijan and one from Pakistan – expel stories of their countries and their immense fear and lack of hope when it comes to freedom on the web.  The girl from Azerbaijan told a story of a prominent blogger that went to renew his identity card and was subsequently told he had been using a fake ID card, had his ID seized by the government, and now he is unable to leave the country.  This was all because of statements he made online.  The girl from Pakistan explained that four women had been stoned this year merely for owning cell phones.

Report: Internet Freedom Declines Worldwide

These stories are tragic and illuminating into the power of the internet, censorship and culture. “There is an inevitable conflict between two distinct social values. The question is how do societies value those competing rights. Technology didn’t create the tension but just revealed it in a dramatic way” (Elliot Schrage, Facebook Vice President of Communication and Public Policy).  Group 1 did a great job illuminating a number of areas where internet has the potential to empower or imprison.

Optional Blog: Gastrodiplomacy – Delicious and Informative

I thoroughly enjoyed the presentation on Thai gastrodiplomacy, both in terms of the food and the actual presentation. I thought that the group worked seamlessly and incorporated treats as an incentive to get us to participate. The powerpoint was simple and effective, and the content was engaging. The culinary diplomacy program that the Thai government is implementing was interesting to me because it is a nice way for both the restaurant owners to stay connected to their culture and for new Thai eaters to become better acquainted with what the food should taste like. The Thai program is interesting too because it provides categories of authenticity and can be used as a tool for customers to assess the food they are consuming.

Their program reminded me of the Italian version in which pizza restaurants can apply to be a member of the Neopolitan Pizza association and receive  D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) certification, which specifies methods of preparation and ingredients for traditional Neapolitan Pizza. Two Amy’s, on Wisconsin, is a member of this Association and as such, has been recognized by the Italian government. I think that programs like the Thai and Italian certification are a fun way to engage foodies with diplomacy. The Thai program, more so than the Italian one, requires certain products to be from Thailand and therefore raises imports to the Untied States for certain goods. I think this component makes the program more effective in terms of continuing a connection between the Thai restaurants and Thailand. I do not think the Italian version has any such requirements or classifications but it is an interesting idea nonetheless.

The Thai program was interesting and exposed me to a new viewpoint when thinking about Thai food. The group posed a series of questions related to the amount of money people spend on Thai food related to that of a “developed” country like France, and while I would not spend as much money on Thai food as I would on French food, I may be more likely to check out a Thai restaurant that has been categorized as “authentic”.

Share America- Can it gain significant traction?

Since we have discussed Share America in class a few times, I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at this public diplomacy effort led by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.On the IIP’s website, Macon Phillips notes that the bureau’s mission is to “engage audiences around the world to work with the United States on shared interests.” More specifically the IPP website notes that Share America as a “digital platform optimized so content can flow seamlessly across social media networks with easy access form mobile devices.”

With this in mind, the website’s layout and structure appears to fulfill this goal. The website looks exactly like Upworthy, a social media website designed to highlight things that matter on the internet and “pass em on,” as each of Share America’s post includes a “Tweet This” and “Share This.” The days stories are easy to access, and from what is being discussed, it is easy to decipher what  values the United States is promoting as they are listed under the search feature “themes.” The first few include democracy, diversity, civil society, and education. Therefore, there is a consistent and clear narrative. And as a reviews noted on Facebook, the simplicity of the website with its shorter stories is good for English beginners, which if helpful for students looking to study in the U.S. or citizens around the world looking to immigrate the the U.S.

However, as a one stop digital platform for sharing America, something about Share America seems a bit off. As a millennial who has long utilized digital platforms as a means to gather news, I am not sure if this website would be a place I would go, but to test these suspicions, I emailed my four cousins in New Zealand and simply sent them the website and asked them their thoughts. Two were suspicious of the .gov address and the explanation that the website was an effort by the State Department. One asked if this was news or propaganda. The third cousin said she appreciated the optimistic tone of the website noting that it reflected the optimistic nature of the American people, and the fourth cousin simply noted that it was easy to use, but the headlines were not “real news.” Although this is a narrow sample, I thought there feedback matched my suspicions, and upon further investigation of the website’s Facebook and Twitter, Share America does have a Twitter following of almost 50,000 people, but overall engagement on both Facebook and Twitter appear to be low. This is interesting since one of the goals of the website is to stimulate conversation and encourage a flow of information across digital platforms, yet the shares and comments are low on most stories.

Overall, I think it will be difficult for Share America to gain the significant traction that the website is designed to have because of factors such as the crowded media environment on the internet, the narrow focus on youth readers and social media, and the question of whether such a website is real news or just propaganda. Regardless, it will be interesting continue to watch this website to see what impact, if any, this website will have on American diplomacy efforts in the digital age.

Russia Today > Putin today

rt-logoFor the most part, I would not depict Russia or its President Putin of possessing optimal skills in public diplomacy.  Propaganda, maybe – not public diplomacy.  However, despite this, Russia has propelled one of its public diplomacy efforts world wide and with relatively high standards and respect.  RT, which stands for Russia Today, is a broadcasting effort that “provides an alternative perspective on major global events, and acquaints an international audience with the Russian viewpoint.”

I love this description particularly because it honestly portrays itself as an effort to disseminate the Russian viewpoint.  In my opinion, this statement is excellent and creates all the difference in terms of my respect for this organization.  Namely, because unlike Fox News, which claims to be “Fair and Balanced“, RT accepts the fact that their position as a news organization is biased, thus allowing its audience to take that into consideration upon absorbing its information.  Knowing that every news organization in the world is biased to some extent, I sincerely respect RT for acknowledging its own bias especially when the majority of news organizations place an enormous amount of effort and capital on ensuring audiences of their complete neutrality.

In addition to their forthright self-portrayal, RT has made a number of accomplishments including reaching an audience of “over 700 million people in 100+ countries” in four languages.   Part of this success is undoubtedly due to RT’s outstanding presence on YouTube.  RT was actually the first TV news channel to reach one BILLION views on YouTube.  RT’s YouTube presence alone shows its owners’ immense foresight into the best media platforms to reach young, emerging audiences.

RT has represented itself honestly, disseminated itself wisely and promoted itself under the purposeful slogan, “Question More“.  I see RT as an excellent example of public diplomacy in the way that it promotes and portrays world news stories through the Russian lens.  I appreciate that it does this strategically and honestly.

However – while I, personally, respect RT – as an effort to make global audiences like Russia and its people more, I guesstimate that RT is not the taking the best approach.  I say this because – while I am quite blunt and unapologetic and appreciate this characteristic in others – I recognize that a lot of people do not appreciate those qualities.  While looking at RT’s “USA” page, I am even quite annoyed at the way RT has taken every opportunity to portray the United States government as evil and incompetent.  However, that being said, when I see this I remember that RT has already acknowledged its own bias, and that makes me less mad.  I also appreciate it because while RT is quite harsh towards the United States, perhaps it does provide, to some extent, a view of the U.S. and the rest of the world that Americans should consider.  Much like how the U.S. tends to demonize Russia, perhaps we, as Americans, should take a closer look at ourselves through that hypercritical lens, and make an effort to address some of those critiques that we can’t bring ourselves to admit.

Or, on the other hand, perhaps RT just effectively implemented soft power on Russia’s behalf – persuading me (and others) to think just the way they hoped.

IVLP

The International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) is one of many public diplomacy programs funded by the U.S. Department of State.  This particular initiative is a professional exchange directed towards current and emerging international leaders to enrich their knowledge of American history, culture and society.  To provide some background on the program’s implementation, in 1940, Nelson Rockefeller was designated Coordinator of Commercial and Cultural Affairs and invited 130 Latin American Journalists to the the United States.  This exchanged continued through several administrations and was eventually realized as the IVLP.  There are several aspects of this public diplomacy program that I admire.

For one, the IVLP has dedicated itself to the cultural exchange of foreign leaders into the American way of life.  Visitors have the opportunity travel to different cities, experience the the classroom setting and converse with their counterpart leaders.  They are also able to share their own cultural experiences and perspectives with us.  The website provides plenty of anecdotal evidence that the program expands the horizon of both the visitor and the host.  This is important, because as a communicative concept, culture can either represent a barrier or a pathway to a fruitful relationship.  Public diplomacy is meant to arm the positive aspects of any country’s public image and the IVLP represents just that.   It breaks down the cultural barriers between the host and visitor and provides an avenue to a mutual learning experience.  Ashraf Gamal of Egypt had this to say:

“I came to the conclusion that I come from a different culture from yours, but through food and culinary arts we can cooperate and understand each other.  I have a dream to fight hunger and poverty…..And we can work together to protect the planet and feed future generations.” – See more at: http://eca.state.gov/ivlp/story/food-diplomacy-brings-egyptian-culinary-professional-table-taste-america#sthash.6VIidUGZ.dpuf

International Visitor Leadership Program

http://eca.state.gov/ivlp/video/international-visitor-leadership-program-70th-anniversary-2011

The International Visitor Leadership Program first started in 1940 when Nelson Rockefeller, the Coordinator of Commercial and Cultural Affairs, invited Latin American journalists the US. This  cultural exchange would later become the IVLP and since it’s inception it has hosted around 5,000 visitors annually. A wide variety of former and current leaders have gone through the program, which is typically three weeks, and involves meetings, dinners, and cultural events that pair the foreign officer’s interests with similar ones held by Americans. For example, people interested in free speech have been partnered with NPR and other news outlets, while those interested in journalism would be placed with a news agency. The program, from all the information I could find, seems to be a way to bring rising leaders to the United States who otherwise might lack a solid comprehension of our culture. How this plays into how favorably these people view the United States is up for debate; however, the end goal of the program is to raise awareness of our culture, politics, and people. The part I liked about the program was the ability of citizens to become “citizen diplomats” through hosting the visiting leaders either socially or professionally. If properly implemented, this part of the program could provide visiting leaders with exposure to “normal” Americans who may have a different agenda than higher ranked leaders who are wholly committed to maintaining a perfect image of the US (which arguably we lack anyway).

By all accounts, the program seems to work well for providing an initial exposure for foreign leaders to the US “way”. I like that the foreign leaders are nominated by worldwide US embassies to come the United States, and I REALLY like that for certain countries this could be the first exposure to conversations with normal Americans who work in jobs the visitors would like the in the future. The projects that the foreign visitors are engaged with vary from women’s rights, to education, to energy security. I think that the program on it’s face looks very beneficial for both the US and the foreign visitor as a method for exposure and in many cases, the US professional becomes acquainted with a person who, in many cases, becomes their counterpart. Measurement of success of the program isn’t really tangible from the sources I could find; rather, the program provides a small foundation to United States society.

Resources:

http://eca.state.gov/files/bureau/ivlp-fact-sheet.pdf

http://eca.state.gov/ivlp/about-ivlp/questions-about-ivlp#question-1254

http://eca.state.gov/ivlp/about-ivlp/program-history