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State Department adviser lays out pros and cons of Internet diplomacy

Alex Ross at an event in 2009

Alex Ross at an event in 2009 // Flickr user poptech

The Wikileaks scandal has inspired State Department officials to be more active online rather than less, says a senior adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“[Wikileaks] is largely made up of members and followers rather than paid staff,” Clinton’s Senior Adviser for Innovation, Alec Ross, said in an interview taped for C-SPAN’s Communicators program. “It has a Web address rather than a street address. It’s truly transnational and virtual in nature.”

“When you recognize that an organization like that can so disrupt the conduct of foreign policy you can do one of two things,” Ross continued. “You can either curl into the fetal position or you can say, ‘you know what, these networks are of great power and great consequence in our foreign policy, so we need to be as strong as possible.’ Secretary Clinton is not one to curl into the fetal position. Nor are any of the rest of us at the State Department. So if anything, it’s affirmed the need for us to be Internet smart.”

Nextgov correspondent Joseph Marks was the episode’s guest reporter. He interviewed Ross with Communicators host Peter Slen.

Ross has encouraged senior diplomats and Foreign Service officers to integrate social media and other new technology into diplomacy as a method to speak directly to citizens rather than through often state-run media.

During the Communicators interview he called Secretary Clinton “the most innovation friendly American diplomat since Benjamin Franklin” and credited her with pushing the State Department bureaucracy to embrace new technology.

Check out the full interview here.

It will air at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on C-SPAN and at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday on C-SPAN 2.

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