US takes diplomacy digital

2013-03-07 14:46
Senator John Kerry. (File, AP)

Senator John Kerry. (File, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

  • Social Networks
    Suitable for those in the field of social networks, both academics and practitioners Now R493.00
    buy now

Washington - When John Kerry took to Twitter on his first day as US secretary of state, he joined an army of diplomats using social media to reach out and connect directly with people around the world.

"Exhilarating to walk into @StateDept today and get to work with remarkable team. Dad on mind! -JK," Kerry wrote in his first personal tweet.

In less than 140 characters, the new US top diplomat instantly signalled he intended to carry on and deepen a commitment to using social media begun under his predecessor Hillary Clinton.

Clinton did not tweet, but she propelled the State Department toward what she called 21st Century Statecraft, and social media engagement has taken off.

There are now more than 300 Twitter accounts with some three million followers, over 400 Facebook pages with close to 20 million fans, and 185 YouTube channels as well as Flickr, Google+ and Instagram links run by the State Department, its embassies, staff and diplomats.

Local language

Most of the embassy Facebook pages are written both in English and the local language, and the official Twitter accounts are in 11 languages including Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hindi, Russian and Turkish.

"We want to participate in the conversations that are taking place around the world every day," said Deputy Assistant Secretary Victoria Esser, in charge of managing digital strategy within the public affairs department.

"The secretary is really committed to using these tools to help us advance our diplomatic goals... It's going to continue to make our diplomats more effective in today's world," she said.

The State Department on Friday will host its first ever tweet-up, asking followers on its @StateDept account, Facebook and Google+ to join it to cover the annual International Women of Courage award.

Absent any diplomatic ties with Iran, there's even a "virtual embassy of Tehran" ( set up in late 2011 and managed from Washington carrying information about visas and studying in the US.

But while US diplomatic staff are excited about expanding their reach beyond the traditional embassy walls, there's a recognition of the inherent problems associated with such freedom.

As Kerry said during a trip to Rome diplomats are now working in "an age where it isn't a letter that comes from the cardinal to the king in some place; it's instantaneous".

Twitter row

Last year, the Kremlin got involved in a heated Twitter row with US envoy Michael McFaul, the US mission in Cairo was under fire for a statement released about an anti-Islam video and Beijing has been infuriated by a US embassy Twitter feed monitoring pollution levels.

"It's a good way to communicate, and it's a new way to communicate, and it's omnipresent in everyone's lives. So my feeling is that we should explore this and use it where ever we can," said US ambassador to Italy, David Thorne.

But he cautioned: "I think it's a challenge to the State Department to manage the message this way, and have a way of interacting with the public that doesn't get misconstrued. We're constantly trying to figure out how to do that."

During the 2012 White House race, Thorne - who honed his social media skills running Kerry's 2004 online presidential campaign - wrote a weekly blog for La Stampa daily and on election night 2 000 people packed into a room to follow the results electronically.

"In this business, you never get to talk to as many people as you'd like. Twitter provides a way for me to connect directly with those I might otherwise miss," said US ambassador to Thailand, Kristie Kenney.

She has over 38 000 followers on her Twitter account, and the embassy's Facebook page has some 124 000 likes. Kenney writes all her own Tweets and says "common sense is my guide".

"Twitter and other social media tools can be a great complement to diplomacy, but this profession still involves a good deal of discretion."

Internet freedom

Meanwhile, the department is also actively engaged in ensuring that people around the world can enjoy what Clinton called "the freedom to connect".

Some $100m has been earmarked by Congress since 2008 for training and developing technology to ensure "the openness of the internet as a platform for citizens around the world, particularly in repressive countries", said Katharine Kendrick, internet freedom team member with the department's Bureau Of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour.

"The US was the first government to put internet freedom as a policy issue on the map at such a high level as the secretary did. And since then we've been actively trying to recruit others to this space."

One grant helped a company develop a panic button for mobile phones which when activated wipes your contacts and tells your friends you're in trouble.

"If you're an activist in many countries in the Middle East the primary threat is not that your blog is censored, it's that you as an individual are tracked," said Kendrick.

"The internet is not a kind of exceptionalist space where government commitments fall by the wayside. We see it as an extension of our existing human rights," she added.


Read more on:    us  |  social networks

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Zuma: Pray for peaceful polls

President Jacob Zuma has asked members of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God to pray for peaceful elections on 7 May.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Saturday Constantia - 07:19 AM
    Road name: Rhodes Drive Both Ways
    ROAD CLOSED between Constantia Nek and Canterbury Road until 1300
  • Saturday Constantia - 07:17 AM
    Road name: Rhodes Avenue
    ROAD CLOSED between Canterbury Road and the M3 Highway until 1300
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Bold 9780

BlackBerry 6 Engage your world with BlackBerry 6 OS on the...

From R3049.00

I'm shopping for:


Self-indulgence may be strong today. You may want to enjoy yourself to the fullest and share it with those that make you more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.