Boas-vindas Presidente Obama: Welcoming President Obama to Brazil


“It’s an honor to welcome the first american president that looks brazilian!! :)”

Those words of welcome, from Fred in Brasilia, joined about 30,000 more messages for President Obama as he made his first visit to Brazil this past March. To help celebrate the president’s visit, we helped the United States Embassy in Brasilia develop “Boas-vindas Presidente Obama”, a social media campaign to raise interest in the president’s visit.

A major objective of this program was to help Brazilians engage with the President’s visit beyond the handful of public events and the usual TV coverage. Brazil is a continent-sized nation with more than 190 million people, so the opportunities for Brazilians to actively participate were unfortunately limited. Social media provided a solution. ?The visit also provided an opportunity to increase mutual understanding and further dialogue with Brazilians on priority themes (such as education, the environment, clean energy, global partnerships, and other topics).

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More Photos from Cairo University

Cairo University sent me some more photos from the two events that were held there last week. There was a great turnout to both events and, as I mentioned in my earlier post, the discussion was challenging and very interesting. I really wish I had more time to debate some of the issues that were raised.

Also, I would be remiss if I did not thank the staff at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, and particularly the Information Resource Center. They really made this event happen. If you are interested in more events like this or to follow their work, I suggest checking out the Facebook pages for the U.S. Embassy Cairo and the Information Resource Center.

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Discussing Social Media in Egypt

For all my work with new media for public diplomacy, the best engagement is still the oldest: face-to-face discussions. “The last three feet”, as Edward R Murrow put it, allow for more personal interaction than the sometimes detached and often anonymous online type. Working from Washington, D.C., where we are so removed from the field, it can be difficult to remember this.

Fortunately, I received a reminder of the importance of in-person public diplomacy earlier this week. As part of my trip across the Middle East, I gave many public presentations on how social media is used by the United States government in our public diplomacy efforts. I’d done this in the West Bank, Amman, and finally in Cairo.

Presentation to the Faculty of Media and Communication, Cairo University
Presentation to the Faculty of Media and Communication, Cairo University

This past Tuesday I spoke to the faculty and students of Cairo University’s Faculty of Mass-Communications and the Faculty of Economics and Political Science. Here is the presentation I used (PPTX). I can say, without a doubt, they asked some of the most challenging questions I’ve received about social media. Their interests were wide and varied. They asked about the risks that social media could detach us from our real-world lives, the use of these tools by the Egyptian government, the role of social media in the release of Iraq war documents on Wikileaks, and much more.

Opinions were also quite diverse. Several individuals asked pointed questions about U.S. government control of the media. As the recent mid-term elections and the ever-shifting popularity of American policies demonstrate, we operate in a very challenging media landscape in which we often have little power to control the message. As I noted in the discussion, if the U.S. government is so good at this, they wouldn’t need me!

A professor of the Faculty of Media and Communications
A professor of the Faculty of Media and Communications

Conversely, the Wikileaks questions often focused on how the U.S. government is quite powerless to control even its own information. Unfortunately, since this isn’t an area I focus on I feel I wasn’t able to sufficiently address the questions. If you’re interested in the Wikileaks Iraq documents story the New York Times has a great special feature on the subject.

In addition to the challenging discussion, I was also very impressed with how Egyptians are using social media to improve their society. One project is using social media and online maps to combat sexual harassment. Another campaign uses these tools to help keep Alexandria clean, an effort that has gotten widespread media attention and compelled the local government to act. Others are using social media to create connections between ordinary Americans and Egyptians to correct stereotypes and improve relations.

The past three weeks have been a whirlwind of activity: events, interviews, chats over tea, seeing astonishing landscapes, experiencing remarkable history, and so much more. However, it is the friendships that were started that I find most important. And, naturally, we’ll be continuing these friendships over social media until my return!

Barriers and Bridges: Visiting the West Bank

Some days it feels like I have the best job in the world. This week I had one of those days. For the past several days I’ve been working with our Embassy in Tel Aviv and Consulate General in Jerusalem on their public diplomacy social media programs. This focuses mostly on sharing best practices from other missions, providing suggestions on enhancements, and helping to create a structured approach to their public engagement. This work has been great, fun, and very illuminating. I’m constantly amazed how much our missions are able to do with limited resources and even less time.

But that isn’t all that made the day so remarkable. What made the day so noteworthy was the opportunity to chat with Palestinian social media leaders. The Arabic Media Internet Network (AMIN) hosted an in-person session with bloggers and practitioners in the West Bank city of Ramallah and a second video conference with bloggers in Gaza.

Merely visiting Ramallah is worth noting on its own. This sounds strange to say, but it seems a very “normal” place. The perception you get of the West Bank is a desperate population riven and cut-off by strife. News images focus on thrown rocks and wire-topped walls. Instead there are bustling streets, car dealerships (including a gleaming Mercedes dealer), and new five-star hotels. The most incongruous feeling was the security detail we are required to have on official visits. It made me feel alien to the outside. I imagine the feeling is mutual when locals see our imposing truck hurtling by.

As an outsider, this normality hides the precariousness of the current situation. I was told stories of humiliations at checkpoints, the daily hassles of stateless-citizens, and families and friends separated by ever-shifting lines. Jerusalem itself is a city of walls. They separate the old from the new, east from west, and a troubled past from an uncertain future.

Yet there are uplifting stories as well, of tireless videographers showing the real lives of Palestinian women, bloggers working to build bridges between separated people, businessmen creating new opportunities, journalists dedicated to openness and transparency, and photographers sharing the beauty of the landscape and her people. They are using new media to tell their stories, as only they can. While the sessions were billed as a chance to learn from the work we’re doing in the State Department, we have much to learn from them.

With luck I will be back in the near future. Until then, there’s always social media to keep us connected!