Yes, I'm talking about Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, the federal douches who've developed online Twitter followings that only two other government officials beat -- Barack Obama and John McCain. Congratulations, boys! Your Twitter avatards have arrived!
And big virtual high-five from me because you've tricked people into thinking that having Blackberry thumb races to see which one of you can Tweet faster about having cake-eating contests on a federally sponsored trip to Syria is a legitimate career. As someone who's been trying to trick others into paying me money for years in exchange for my similar non-skill skills, I salute you.
Unless of course your efforts are helping the terrorists win...
But before discussing the pitfalls of the douchey duo's approach to statecraft, let's take a look at the entire Internet and how nefarious foreign entities may use it. Hilariously accented Belarusian thinker Evgeny Morozov points out that the Eeeenterrrrnet actually helps dictatorships and other oppressive regimes because it gives them a very easy platform on which to spin stories. That is, they can pay bloggers to accuse those who post something negative about the government to write e-essays about how that person is untrustworthy or a foreign operative or Sharktopus or whatever.
More poignantly, and this is probably Morozov's strongest argument, he says that social netvooorrrrrks have become all-you-can-eat information buffets for oppressive governments to easily figure out who the dissidents are, how they're connecting and, often, where they'll be. "Een the past eet vould take you veeks, if not months, to identify how ... activeests connect to each other. Now you actually know how zay connect to each other by looking at zee Facebook page." Gone is the need to torture, he says, "Now eet's all available aaahhhnline!"
And now I have a strange craving for vodka with a borscht chaser...
While I go get my delicious and healthy breakfast ready (my ancestors are proud today), think about this: Foreign policy and diplomacy in oppositional countries are touchy things. It's all about the message and knowing how best to control it to ensure it has the best chance to be understood as intended. The Internet aids none of those things and using the excuse of "Oh well! It's the future! We gotta work with it!" is not good enough. Just because it exists does not mean you have to use it. Crack exists, too, yet you don't see me eating that for breakfast!
But I digress. While, of course, I recognize there will never be a means to control entirely a message no matter how great of wording you use or how you send it, I do understand that certain methods increase your chances exponentially. Twitter is not one of them. Having senior-level State Department employees haphazardly broadcast 140-character sic-filled snippets about cake-eating contests to the world does little to help our relations with Syria. (As far as I know, not one less dollar was diverted to arming
Basically, whether you're a layperson on a mission or a government official (which means by your title alone you're by default on a mission), this all comes down to the purpose behind your message. If you don't have one, then you shouldn't be Tweeting (wipe that cake off your face and pay attention, Cohen.). And if you do have a message, then you need to think about the consequences of sending it via a 140-character snippet to the entire world.
Non-governmental entities need to think about who else could read their message. If activists are going to continue to use it as a new way to organize protests before they occur, it seems that the government they're protesting against will always win. If they use it simply to publicize their protests as they're happening then perhaps they stand a chance. (Morozov writes more about that idea here.)
Government agents need to think about social media more fundamentally, however. Unlike laypeople, where I think the Internet can help their cause greatly if used as a means to publicize rather than organize, I think federally employed thumbs need to think about this before they hit send: How -- if at all -- can Twitter or Facebook help the American diplomatic cause in real-time? I'm not so sure it can. Diplomacy is about compromise, meaning there's a lot of back-and-forth before one or more parties make concessions to reach an agreement. This back-and-forth needs to be carefully crafted and communicated to the correct individuals (and more importantly, perhaps, NOT to others) in order to decrease the chance of misinterpretation. Broadcasting everything to the world in this case just seems idiotic. With that in mind, I think social media should only be used by the State department to publicize when an agreement has been made, not to negotiate some kind of "21st-century statecraft," as State Secretary Clinton has called it, or spout off some ridiculous observation without thinking it through.
Perhaps in the future, there will be a wider roll for such things, but for now it just seems like 21st-century shambles. Cohen and Ross may have had a chuckle about that now infamous cake-eating Tweet, but the rest of the world did not. Perhaps not even the Syrian communication minister to whom that cake-eating Tweet was directed. Since as far as I know he doesn't have a Twitter, we'll never know what he thought, but imagine if he did Tweet, didn't like what the Americans said and wrote, "Really? THIS is what the USA sends to me? Liberal democracy. Pfft." What good would that do for our cause? With so much of the world already against us, should we really give them more avenues by which to dislike us? Because right now the bad is outweighing the good when it comes to government officials on Twitter.
To quote "The Room," a movie whose creative and barely understandable lines always shed light on worldwide issues, "Keep your stupid comments in your pocket." And I mean that literally, State Department. Put your Blackberrys away. Or at least use G-chat.
And speaking of avartards and such, did you know you can follow The Anti DC on Twitter and "like" The Anti DC page on Facebook? The Anti DC's marketing department would appreciate your participation on both. Thank you.