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Using the Internet to spread the American Way

29 January, 2008
By Allison Orr

Late last year, Defence Secretary Robert Gates called on the US government to commit more money and effort to so called "soft power" tools including, among other things, electronic communications.

According to a New York Times article, Gates admitted that Al Quaeda is better at using the Internet to spread its message than is the US.

"We are miserable at communicating to the rest of the world what we are about as a society and a culture, about freedom and democracy, about our policies and our goals," he said. "It is just plain embarrassing that Al Qaeda is better at communicating its message on the Internet than America."

Now the US Government is turning to the Internet in efforts to project "soft power" and spread its message.

The US State Department and the Pentagon are moving into the area of "blog diplomacy" by posting entries on Arabic blogs to challenge misrepresentations of America and to promote moderate views among young people in Islamic countries.  According to Duncan MacInnes from the State Department, quoted in a Washington Post article, the department’s bloggers "speak the language and idiom of the region, know the culture reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly, rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a US government spokesperson".

The "digital outreach team" logs on using their own names and includes six speakers of Arabic, two of Persian and one of Urdu.

In addition, the State Department has launched America.gov – "telling America’s story", which Condoleeza Rice says, "seeks to be part of a two-way conversation between Americans and people in other countries".  It is a website covering US policy, society and values for foreign audiences.

The State Department is also now hosting a blogsite, called Dipnote, in an attempt to make diplomacy generally, and the activities of the State Department, more transparent.  This blog has US citizens as its target audience, to provide them with "a window into the work of the people responsible for our foreign policy".

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