The Foreign Service Journal - January/February 2014 - page 21

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
|
JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2014
21
Utilizing new media in public
diplomacy is vital in countries
like Russia, where government
control of most broadcast media
often distorts the message
from Washington.
BY ROBERT KOEN I G
USING “SOCIAL DIPLOMACY”
TO REACH
RUSSIANS
FOCUS
A
lmost as soon as a Russian court
convicted activist Alexei Navalny of
embezzlement, on highly dubious
grounds, in July 2013, U.S. Ambassador
Michael McFaul tweeted his disappoint-
ment at the “apparent political motiva-
tions in this trial.”
Within minutes that comment
echoed across Russia’s social media
landscape, eventually generating nearly 1,000 retweets and
getting picked up by numerous media outlets. “Everyone was
checking McFaul’s Twitter account and quoting what he said,”
recalls Elena Chernenko, a foreign desk correspondent for
Kom-
mersant
, one of Moscow’s major daily newspapers.
In recent years, Twitter and other social media have emerged
as a lightning-fast, pointed alternative to traditional tactics of
public diplomacy. Supplementing their usual portfolios, U.S.
Robert L. Koenig was a Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Information
Agency from 1980 to 1981, serving in Germany. He then left the Service
to return to journalism, covering various national and international
events including the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. (The next year, the
National Press Club honored him for his reporting on that seminal
event.) He continued to work as a journalist during the posting of his
FSO wife, Mary Ellen Koenig, in Germany, Switzerland and South
Africa. Now an Eligible Family Member, he works as an assistant infor-
mation officer in Moscow, where she is cultural affairs officer.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE FOREIGN SERVICE
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