Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 13:53 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 13:53 | SYDNEY

Time for DFAT to join the online debate


Fergus Hanson


25 January 2011 13:22

There's a good piece in the Washington Post on how US State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley uses Twitter to communicate US Government messages. As writer Matthew Lee puts it:

In recent days, department spokesman P.J. Crowley has tweeted to knock down rumors, amplify U.S. policy positions, appeal for calm and urge reforms in Haiti, Tunisia and Lebanon. 

He goes on:
Crowley's reach — he has 9,717 followers — may not rival that of celebrities, sport stars or even other government officials. But those tracking his pronouncements include virtually all the journalists, pundits and analysts who deal with U.S. foreign policy, as well as ordinary citizens and foreign ministers of other countries.

Crowley's network connects him with influencers in 100-plus countries, and with re-tweets, it grows exponentially. 

Like thousands of other people interested in international relations, I get daily tweets and Facebook news feeds from several different US and other government officials, including Crowley, but so far none from DFAT. It's an odd approach for any government to take. In a previous post I referred to a famous study (via Clay Shirky) by the sociologists Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld who, as Shirky put it:

...discovered that mass media alone do not change people's minds; instead, there is a two-step process. Opinions are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. It is in this second, social step that political opinions are formed. This is the step in which the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can make a difference.

Of course, every diplomat knows that. It's analogous to what they do all the time: put their country's view on the table and try to persuade as many others as possible to adopt it as their position as well. But if communications and public debate has moved online, how can DFAT hope to have its message heard, let alone discussed and potentially adopted by others, if it isn't even participating'

Follow Fergus on Twitter @FergusHanson.