With questions being asked about why the State Department spent $630,000 of your tax money to buy “likes” on Facebook, and indeed the point of State’s social media at all (the latter by State’s own Inspector General), it seems worthwhile to raise a few questions of our own.
The sort of uber-issue with social media is quantity does not equal quality, or effectiveness, or any sort of foreign policy progress. U.S. Embassy Baghdad has over 137,000 likes and US policy in Iraq is in disarray. Numbers alone are meaningless without some measure of accomplishment or goal to go with them (i.e., tickets sold, books downloaded, attendance counted). State lacks any metrics for progress/success/contribution toward US foreign policy goals. In tight economic times, that needs to precede the spending of $630k of taxpayer money. How about THINK first, SPEND later?
Measuring the effectiveness of the made-up concept of public diplomacy is indeed the problem with public diplomacy. If your goal is to sell tickets or increase attendance, well, you have a clear goal that you can obviously compare directly against actions taken and money spent (Google it; it’s called “return on investment.”) State latched on to things like Facebook and Twitter simply because they were cool and “modern” without any idea what the real point was. But don’t believe me– see what the Inspector General had to say.
Smoke and Mirrors
Oh, says State, you can’t really measure the “soft” benefits of social media.
The “we can’t measure it” thing is a convenient excuse not to try. It was the excuse used in Iraq and Afghanistan to allow billions to be spent on reconstruction projects that did not work. Here’s an idea– why not allow a fully-independent taxpayer organization to audit State’s social media, with a unredacted report to the public on how it furthers US policy aims? Or wait… how do politicians and organizations measure this stuff? Might be a clue there: they of course use unbiased, sophisticated, professional polling and surveys (even if they release jacked-up figures to the public later.)
Perhaps another question to ask is if these videos are such wonderful vehicles for whatever they are supposed to be doing, why does it seem that only the U.S. knows this? I keep looking for other countries’ versions of Gangnam-style and the like, and just can’t seem to find any.
Right now we just have smoke, mirrors and self-generated happy talk to go on as State produces Gangnam-video after video.
Wait, did I say Gangnam-style??????? You remember that fad, from last summer, right? Well, State’s social media wizards are still trying to milk it on your dime into 2013. Folks, nobody is impressed by last year’s fads. Ditch the leisure suits already, ‘kay? Meanwhile, State’s then head of social media did not even know what Gangnam-style was at the peak of the fad, but offered to “dial it up” on YouTube. You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.
But hey, let’s not be all depressed because our government is either spying on us or wasting our money. Let’s rock!
(Here’s one commentator who asks “Is this how we want the U.S. represented abroad?”)
As a bonus, here’s “Call Me Maybe” from US Embassy Manila!
But Wait, There’s More!
No, no, wait, here’s another U.S. Embassy video from Laos, of the Deputy Chief of Mission (sort of Vice Ambassador) washing his hands in an embassy toilet in honor of National Hand Washing Day. Edgy, yes? If you look at the YouTube page, one of the commenters is actually the guy’s nephew who writes “Uncle Paul, you missed a spot.” LOL.
OK, OK, just one more, then it’s bed time and I mean it. U.S. Embassy Algeria, with Harlem Shake. Note the Obama cardboard standup:
There are, oh God, more. Now, go ask a taxpayer, or Congress, if s/he thinks these are a good use of funds (and you’ll find out as a bonus why State always has trouble growing its budget when asked to justify itself in front of Congress).
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