Thursday, March 26, 2009

First: Communication Infrastructure, then Blog

Two weeks ago, the Gallup Poll published U.S. Faces Challenges With Communications Users Abroad . The article talked about how the US’ communication infrastructure can influence its image abroad. The article noted how

In some regions, the more likely respondents were to report they had household access to telecommunication technologies such as the Internet, telephone, and television, the more likely they were to disapprove of American leadership. Gallup also compared other factors, such as income, education, and age, to American approval ratings, but the relationship was not as clear as with communications.

This brings me to what we were discussing in classes about blogs and whether or not they have an impact on the US public diplomacy. I would say this is only accurate to a certain degree because not everyone in the world has access to the Internet. According to the Gallup Poll, only 14% of the world has access to home Internet. Regionally, only 24% of the homes in the Middle East have Internet access. Even when they do have Internet access, they will also need to be literate. So as it was brought up in class, “who is the public in public diplomacy?” – For the case of blogs, I would say it would be for the group of people who are educated and able to read and they are part of a certain demographic group that can afford the Internet and time to read blogs.

The Gallup Poll noted that

Mitchell Polman, blog contributor with the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, argues that, considering the low Internet penetration worldwide, the U.S. government should not forget the importance and reach of "Public Diplomacy 1.o," or focusing on radio and the printed word.

Blogs can be used a tool for the US to gain some leverage- but other communications tools should also be used, depending on the audience and how they will have access to it.


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. I think Manith’s post touches a crucial issue that we have been discussing throughout the semester. Do Blogs really matter in Public Diplomacy?

    I am torn when answering this question. On the one side, the blogsphere is a unique media environment that allows everyone to engage, share thoughts and discuss viewpoints. For Public Diplomacy initiatives, this could be a chance to create a virtual one-to-one communication basis. On the other side, by “everyone can engage” I automatically think about Western countries, where telecommunication structures are well advanced. Manith raised the core argument: “According to the Gallup Poll, only 14% of the world has access to home Internet. Regionally, only 24% of the homes in the Middle East have Internet access.”

    The limitations of blogging for PD in regions such as the Middle East are more prominent than the actual advantages. The audience to be reached through blogs is very small. I think that if “traditional” Public Diplomacy does not really succeed, how should it work in the Web 2.0?

    Communication research also raises another obstacle of blogging – even in Western countries. In today’s media environment, more and more news outlets have led to a media fragmentation. Everyone is able to construct a “Daily Me” when it comes to choosing what media to consume. Consequently, there is no longer a mass audience. Everyone chooses exactly those media outlets that go along with their own personal viewpoint which allows opinion extremities to become more prominent. Mutz (2006) calls this process “polarization.” There is little agreement and little common ground when it comes to world views, issues or candidates.

    Given this background information, I think that blogging in Western countries will not necessarily lead to a change of mind. Even if people are interested in reading blogs and live in an environment that provides them with a continuous Internet access, they are more likely to read blogs that reflect their view point and reinforce their arguments.

    Mutz, D. (2006). How the mass media divide us. In P. Nivola & D.W. Brady (eds.), Red and Blue Nation? Vol. 1. (pp. 223-263). The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC.

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  4. Ok, I'm going to come right out and say it. Blogs matter. There, now that that's out, I will qualify that statement by saying that is seems like blogs matter, but mostly to those who have blogs on similar topics. It's not to say that there aren't those stray readers who stumble upon a blog and start to take part in the debate, or those that seek out a certain blog because it is on a certain topic or because a friend recommended it. However, if you pay close attention, there seems to be some connection among bloggers participating in other blogs. Based on this, it seems as though, although the internet reaches 14% of the population, not all of this population participates on the blogsphere, thereby automatically reducing the effect that blogs have. This percentage is further reduced by the sheer number of blogs available on any particular topic. Albeit there are some blogs that have name recognition, but they seem to be few and far in between. And there are my two cents.

  5. I believe that blogs are important when it comes to practicing public diplomacy, especially since they play such a prominent role in certain countries where freedom of expression is limited, such as Iran. It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of active blogs in Iran, and they are highly popular among the educated youth.

    The power of blogs in countries such as Iran is clear. So much so, that there is a visible crackdown on bloggers in the country and many have been arrested. According to the New York Times (

    “Hundreds of Web sites and blogs that were critical of the government have been blocked. Censorship has been so wide that the president’s blog was once blocked mistakenly along with Google for a day…In fact, blogging has become common among former officials, especially reformist politicians who do not have a platform to express their ideas.”

    In order for the U.S. to practice effective public diplomacy, it must reach out to foreign publics in multiple ways. I agree with Manith that a variety of communications tools must be utilized in the practice of public diplomacy, because blogs don’t reach large quantities of the world’s population. In these cases, reaching out through more traditional mediums is necessary.

    Yet, blogs are highly popular and influential among certain groups of people, such as the educated youth in Iran, and these groups need to be engaged by the U.S. through blogging. The effects may take time to develop, but as we have learned, public diplomacy is a long-term, trial and error process.