Building Linkages Online: An Assessment of U.S. Public Diplomacy 2.0 Efforts in Southern Africa

Principal Investigator:
Amelia Arsenault, CPD Research Fellow, 2012-2014

Contributing Researcher:
Alex Laverty

Centers of Gravity in Public Diplomacy 2.0: A Case Study of U.S. Efforts in South Africa

Although long considered the backwater of modern communications systems, sub-Saharan Africa has emerged at the forefront of American efforts to utilize social media, internet, and mobile technologies in service of public diplomacy. As an anecdotal indication of this, in June 2012, Foreign Policy nominated the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria as one of the top 100 foreign policy “Twitterati.”

This project will utilize two case studies comparing the strategic narratives put forward via social media and related new media technologies by a major power (the United States) and an emerging power (South Africa) on strategic African political issues. Each case study will examine the messaging strategies put forward in the online sphere by the respective actor via content analysis; identify the issue network involved in discussing that issue online using hyperlink analysis; and then use quantitative and qualitative content analysis on the news and reactions posted in those networks in order to compare and uncover the directionality and depth of the connections between messaging strategies and online discourse.

In conducting this research, this project will add empirical evidence to the emerging academic and practical discussions surrounding the use of social media to connect with and mobilize foreign publics, or what some refer to as public diplomacy 2.0. The comparative research framework is designed to explore the structure and limitations of the use of social media for public diplomacy between and within states of radically different traditional and new media environments and at different levels of power within the international relations. It will allow for a side-by-side comparison of how these trends operate in practice by and between a major Western power (the United States) and an emerging leader of the Global South, South Africa. The results of this project will be documented through a series of posts to the CPD Blog and a longer CPD Perspectives on Public Diplomacy publication.