Wooing the World via the Web

"We've barely scratched the surface as to what we can use to communicate with people around the world," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told department staffers, arguing for greater and more innovative use of the Internet. Former Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy James Glassman -- who previously hosted the "journo-lobbying" site Tech Central Station -- also supported what he called "Public Diplomacy 2.0." As the Center for Media and Democracy reported previously, Glassman's online initiatives -- by his own admission -- raise questions about the ban on domestic dissemination of material intended for foreign audiences, the Smith-Mundt propaganda ban. Jeremy Curtin, who coordinates State's Bureau of International Information Programs, stressed that the government's role online is "to help lead the conversation in ways that are constructive," or supportive of U.S. policies. Often, funding is an issue. "State's digital outreach team -- federal officials who log on to discussion forums in Arabic, Persian and Urdu to discuss U.S. foreign policy -- has only a dozen people. Glassman recalled a former Defense Department official commenting that if such a program had been in the [Pentagon], that number would have been 800."