The two provided chapters of Price’s new work, “Hearts, Minds, & Social Turmoil: Strategic Communication, New Media Technologies, & Freedom of Expression,” identify and discuss some trends, assumptions, and possible future pitfalls in the practice of strategic communication. Chapter 2 focuses on free expression, debating the traditional role of media vis-à-vis the developing influence of social media, and the new-ish posture of strategic communications to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of targeted, usually foreign, audiences. Chapter 6 focuses on social frameworks, the “architecture,” of media/information flows systems, and how they have changed overtime. Below are key points I identified.
1. I was impressed by Price’s treatment of free expression and its contribution to Post and Fiss’ concept of “collective self-determination.” As a diplomacy practitioner for the United States Government I can attest that the goal of U.S. Public Diplomacy is two-fold: to tell America’s story; and to promote democracy – using several avenues, one of which is promoting freedom of expression. To promote self-expression U.S. foreign policy employs a variety of activities according to the host environment including use of social media, supporting public dialogue, encouraging the rule of law at the state level, strengthening civic institutions, etc. How much measurable effect this has on freedom of expression toward “collective self-determination” is not verifiable in the immediate term. One hopes to trace any effects a generation or two later in local public opinion of America.
Of course, these efforts do not take place in a vacuum, plenty of other circumstances or factors can shift public opinion as well. I wonder, along the line of Price’s argument about how freedom of expression differs in concept and role with different styles of democracy which we can study – and has an unexamined relation to other, less democratic styles of government – if our efforts to encourage freedom of expression in authoritarian states aren’t having unforeseen consequences. In Mauritania, where I served for two years, I never heard young Mauritanians say “I admire the U.S. example and I think more free expression could help us here,” I generally heard them say “how can I get a visa?”
In his discussion titled “Exit, Voice, and Stability” in the second chapter of his book “Media and Sovereignty,” Price cited Hirschman’s definition for loyalty as “the set of conditions that makes exit somewhat more unlikely and voice a more important mechanism for feedback.” Is it possible that the current U.S. foreign policy to encourage and emphasize “voice” amongst target audiences in foreign nations leads more toward “exit” than “loyalty?” If the spread of “collective self-determination” and stable states are at the core of our national interest, would not also “loyalty” of citizens to their nation, if not their state, be in our national interest?
2. Price raised the changing roles of “free speech intermediaries,” and “the rapid disappearance of familiar intermediaries” which had functioned as “guardians of the public interest.” He names “newspapers, television networks, even state related entities” as formerly filling this role. He goes on to say that strategic communicators including states are now encouraging various internet platforms to act as mediators, and Price cites this as “aiding the government.” I argue that he is right that internet platforms like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and even Amazon and Craigslist may aid governments insofar as their actions coincide with what a government wished, such as age restrictions for certain content available on YouTube or Craigslist, Twitter’s commitment to disable abusive accounts and those held by admitted terrorist organizations (http://talkingpoliticsjomc.wordpress.com/2013/09/27/terrorism-on-twitter/), and Facebook’s extensive data-sharing arrangements (http://watchdog.org/103172/dislike-facebook-admits-to-sharing-personal-information-with-governments-26000-times-in-the-first-six-months-of-2013/).
However, in many cases such actions can also or more-so be viewed as acting as “guardians of public interest” often against what the state may have wished. In 2010 Google very publicly refused to enter a deal for Google China that would allow the Chinese government to censor vast amounts of content, against the desire of that state and commanding the attention of the then U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/arts/jan-june10/google_01-26.html). In 2011 Amazon.UK was petitioned by thousands of users to remove books from its database that were argued to promote child abuse (http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/amazon-refuse-to-carry-books-which-advocate-the-physical-abuse-of-children). In the aftermath of whistleblower Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA records, Google announced that they would encrypt all mail (http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-09-06/business/41831756_1_encryption-data-centers-intelligence-agencies) – and Snowden later reported in a May 2013 open forum interview hosted by reddit that transmittal encryption works (http://techcrunch.com/2013/06/17/encrypting-your-email-works-says-nsa-whistleblower-edward-snowden/). These actions were taken out of convictions toward “the public interest” held by each platform and its founder, and in opposition to the stance of a government.
3. In chapter 6, “Strategies of System Architecture,” I very much appreciated the perspectives of other nations’ communication structures. International Communication study itself, as so well espoused by Nitty in earlier weeks, lends itself to a wholly American approach to an American activity, which of course cannot be the case as all nations have systems of domestic communication in place, and have solidified channels of interaction with other nations and the ideas and content produced by other nations. Thus it was refreshing here to have contrasting examples presented, not so much in contrast, but alongside and equal.
What really grabbed my attention was the restructuring efforts taken on by non-state actors, Google and Comcast. Comcast’s example of expansion and influence, traditionally tied as it is to profit by market share and advertising, is perhaps less dynamic (to my thinking) only because it is an old story, a proven business model, and the ad-profits are in the consumer/viewer’s face. What is different about Google? It doesn’t cost the consumer anything! How then, does Google make money, and what is its interest in providing access to such a wide array of content, also made free? According to Google’s own website, “How does Google make money? What is driving Google’s growth? Today, the majority of our revenue comes from advertising. Advertisers are increasingly turning to the Internet to market their products and services. Google AdWords… enables advertisers to deliver relevant ads targeted to search queries or web content… advertisers pay us either when a user clicks on one of its ads or based on the number of times their ads appear on the Google Network.” (http://investor.google.com/corporate/faq.html#toc-money)
So this new system of information architecture may not be founded on such a new platform after all. How different can such structures for information dispersal be in an advertisement-based information structure? In chapter 2, Price referenced C. Edwin Baker, one of whose books is titled “Advertising and a Democratic Press.” Perhaps further study of underlying platforms, such as advertising, the consumer’s vote at the checkout stand (note, Google’s FAQ site notes that most advertisers pay only when a user actually clicks on the advertisements that appear), versus state-sponsored media in part or all should be more closely studied.