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Programs and Events 2011

Communication Technologies and Foreign Policy

Man speaking to a group of people. (Photo Credit: State Dept.)

Senior Advisor on Innovation Alec Ross addressing Swedish ambassadors and Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Bildt at the Foreign Ministry.

Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Senior Advisor on Innovation Alec Ross was in Stockholm August 23 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Carl Bildt to speak with Sweden’s ambassadors from around the world on the role of new communication technologies in foreign policy.  Mr. Ross praised the leadership of Sweden in mobile and internet communications, and of Minister Bildt in using these new tools to inform people about foreign policy issues. 

Mr. Ross said the main impact of global digitization is on who holds power. New technologies connecting people and giving them better information are devolving power from nation states and large, traditional institutions to individuals and small institutions. This can be seen in the events in North Africa and the Middle East, although Mr. Ross thinks it is wrong to call events there “Facebook revolutions” or “Twitter revolutions.”  The sources of social change in those regions are deep dissatisfaction with ruling elites, lack of economic opportunity, and limitations on democratic participation.

The technologies are just tools helping citizens to express and act on their desire for change. Technologies can be used for good or bad, but are themselves are neutral. They take on the values and intentions of users. 

Speaking about the events of the “Arab Spring” Mr. Ross saw the role of connection technologies as: an accelerant – making change happen faster; changing the information environments by giving access to more and more accurate information; social media made weak ties between people or groups stronger; but it also produced movements with distributed leadership rather than a central figure, which can present challenges for governance after political change. 

Alec Ross is one of the most followed people on Twitter.  To see more of what he is saying as he travels the world follow him on @AlecJRoss.  Follow the U.S. Embassy in Sweden on @usembassysweden.