A Student’s Perspective: The Guardian Interviews Alec Ross

Mehrunnisa Wani is a student at Columbia’s School of Journalism. She is one of ten students providing on the ground coverage of SMWNYC- all from the student’s perspective. She is providing her report from The Guardian Interviews Alec Ross.

“What does the Internet have to with foreign policy and diplomacy? In this day and age, if you care about human rights you have to care about the Internet,” said Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation, Office of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

As evident from the Arab (Internet) Spring, social media was an effective vent for the outrage and the wave of the frustration that swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and, most recently, Syria.

Tweeples, Facebookers, and YouTubers worldwide were all proponents of this change. With their succinct slogans, videos, and blog entries they encapsulated the depth of the oppression. The revolution was filled with narratives of twitter handles and even fact-checking was a collaborative effort, or what veterans would call a crowdsourcing activity.

Some dubbed it as the greatest tools of this age and others went as far as crediting it for fermenting the chaos and subsequently, toppling regimes. Despite the divergent views on the platform, it catapulted social justice campaigns worldwide, abetting and enabling leaderless protests.

The role of technology is, of course, integral –and now becoming closely intertwined with diplomacy. With governments realizing this, some are constricting expression and others such as the United States are allowing its ambassadors, some 195 have twitter accounts and 170 have Facebook accounts, according to Ross.

Ross, however, doesn’t credit technology—wholly—for the toppling of dictatorship-based regimes, but he is finding solutions to the gravest health, economic, social problems in developing nations through social media applications. It’s a new wave – the social networking-diplomacy era, where fostering ties between nations is done through programs like Apps4Africa, bringing fifteen nations and discussing solutions which, in the end, will yield innovative methods in tackling economic development issues and paving ways for sustainable long-term projects.

The consensus is that it is a tool for civic engagement, where information is readily available and movements are accelerated, but what happens when people achieve their goal, when governments are overthrown? Who helps with picking up the crumbs? Are plan of actions created?

“Though social media has proven to be a tool for dissent, it has not yet proven to be a successful tool for governance,” said Ross. With tools set forth by the State Department, Ross hopes that governance connects with the governing and social media takes out the implicit elitism in governing. Two things for sure, social media is equalizing the world and creating a forum of communication between the governing bodies and the people. Social media has become the weapon of the first world, but what about the third world?

 

Mehrunnisa Wani hails from Kashmir, India. She is currently a masters candidate at the Columbia School of Journalism learning to report stories in various mediums, all the while familiarizing herself with the digital media boom so she can utilize those skills to connect the world one story at a time. In the future she hopes to cover conflict zones, learn to code and change the world – simultaneously. She resides in Queens, New York. Follow her on @mehrwani.