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New Media and Global Engagement

I was asked by the good folks over at Layalina to write a short piece on 'New Media and Global Engagement' for their Perspectives publication. At the intersection of the ever-growing footprint of Meedan's work and Perspectives's wonkish (in the best sense) US foreign policy maker audience, I hit on the idea that I would try to get underneath the hype and hyperbole of new media promotion in policy circles (admittedly, a glow which has since gone dim on the heals of Wikileaks) - and talk a bit about what new media is and what it means (or could mean) in the context of global engagement. You can read my piece on the Layalina site or download the pdf.

Two key points:

  1. New media is powerful because it resolves to 'real people' having 'real experiences' while they go about their 'real lives.' US government new media efforts in the MENA should support best practices, open networks, and open standards and not causes, individuals, or organizations; global new media practitioners cannot both 'keep it real' and accept US government support. Social networks are just as fragile as they are powerful. In the age of new media reputation is everything and efforts to support new media must first 'do no harm' to the causes and people whose currency is reputation based.

  2. In a global context, facilitating cross-network interactions has much to do with facilitating cross-language interactions. The internet is not currently wired very well for this, and so it is up to the communities with linguistically diverse or bilingual audiences to lead the effort while the research and tool development continues. Continued government support for Machine Translation (MT) and Hybrid Translation (HDNLT) research remains the most practical and foundational contribution to global engagement in the era of new media. And, we should broaden the research agenda to aggressively promote English to Arabic MT research which lags behind Arabic to English MT research (most gov funding of Machine Translation research has targeted Arabic to English translation).

These two themes, one very social (humility) and one quite scientific (MT and HDNLT research), are the keys to smart policy that might enable the 2 billion citizens of the global internet to crowdsource the work of global engagement and develop diverse social networks that begin to bridge divided global communities.

It strikes that that if I am going to put up a blog post about an article I wrote, I am obliged to provide a bit of 'behind the scenes' insight (the, go to our website for the story behind the story, plug). For me the main takeaway in writing this piece was social; I reached out to @gazamom to ask her permission to mention her tweets from Cairo in my piece- as I thought they were the quintessential illustration of new media's power and potential. Just a simple email exchange and a phone call, but a great 'social connection' and another friend on my internet travels. A case in point for the power of new media.

-eab