The Guardian Interviews Alec Ross (Video)

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Social and digital media is disrupting governments, in ways that are large and small. As the first Senior Advisor of Innovation to the U.S. Department of State, Alec Ross has been put in charge of accounting for the internet and networks in foreign policies. The Guardian interviews Alec as part of their daily series during SMW12. See the full interview, and catch our recap below.

1. The State Department is focused on preserving the free expression of the will of the people, especially with the emergence of new technologies.
All of our old values and old rights can be protected and preserved in new technologies. Currently, the U.S. Department of State has invested $70M in over a dozen projects to help people exercise these rights, from Internet in a Suitcase and a panic button for mobile phones. The State Department’s involvement goes beyond developing new projects to also working to secure internet freedom. Internet freedom is fundamental to human rights in the 21st century. As networked capabilities get more sophisticated, we need to be more attuned to the possibility of the compromise of the openness of the internet. Companies should also be held accountable for selling gear to oppressive regimes to facilitate more intranet and closed systems, prohibiting internet freedom.

These are big tasks and there is a big team behind all this, including Hillary who has been the godmother of 21st century progression. A great example of the innovation that team does together can be seen in App for Africa. Apps for Africa came out of one of his team suggesting they maximize the great pool of app developers in East Africa. Citizens of East Africa could present the biggest problems they face to local developers, and the developers who develop the best solution would win a prize. The winning app was iCow, which maps menstrual cycles of cows. The app helps farmers better understand milking cycles and breeding cycles and current market prices. While it might not seem obvious at first, but these initiatives do push forward our foreign policy objectives. Foreign aid and assistance is a strong foreign policy objective, as is fighting poverty. Apps for Africa helped move both along. Their initiatives are also making a space for government to citizen communications. We can now dialogue with people that we would never had that opportunity to before. This takes the implicit elitism out of diplomacy.

2. Social media has played a very definite role in revolutions around the globe.
Social media played very definite roles in the uprising in North Africa:

1. Social media accelerated movement making. Movements were built faster because of these open platforms.
2. It facilitated leaderlessness. The leadership of themovement itself was networked.
3. It enriched an information environment. access to info wasn’t commanded down.
4. historically of unlike type came together offline because of online connections.

But ultimately, these are just tools. No country can tweet its way to democracy but these tools can make it easier to share information with the external world.

3. The internet does not lend itself to compromise or moderation.
Social media has a proven history as a powerful tool for dissent but overall is has not shown itself to be good for governance. As we transition to elections and governance, all things internet can actually play a role in further dividing a country. One thing we do know about the internet is that it ultimately amplifies the voices at the extremes. We need to overall see more programs that help this tool moderate this better.

Stay posted for Alec’s full session on the U.S.’s digital vision and our analysis to come later. In the meantime, watch all our keynotes from February 2012, and don’t forget to share your thoughts on Alec’s keynote below.

Nicky Yates

Director of Communications, Social Media Week

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