“Teenagers clicked away on their cell phones in a bustling Iranian marketplace. Ignoring the cold, they exchanged information about parties, dates and potential bandmates with strangers, using Bluetooth technology.
“It is this type of simple adaptation of social networking that is key to U.S. public diplomacy efforts, said Jared Cohen, a member of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s policy planning staff. Cohen recalled visiting Iran about five years ago while researching a book and seeing young Iranians in the southwestern city of Shiraz busily texting each other. Communicating, but no one was talking.
“Diplomats with decades of experience and knowledge need to work with the under-30 age group that is deftly using Internet-based communication technology, Cohen said. Traditional channels of diplomacy are fine, but they will need an assist from Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to succeed.
“Cohen noted a few powerful examples. After the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti, text messaging was crucial to collecting donations for emergency relief. In Afghanistan, Cohen said, he encountered inmates who smuggled in cell phones to organize riots.
“And, Cohen said, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe pointed out that the most recent major demobilization of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known by the Spanish acronym FARC, could not have happened without social networking, specifically Facebook, to organize protests with millions of supporters worldwide.”
I played highlights of Jared Cohen’s presentation; you can hear the entire event by clicking on the audio link.