Clinton to hold digital town hall

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will hold a digital town hall meeting April 17 while traveling in the Caribbean for a summit meeting of heads of state from the Western Hemisphere. The State Department is inviting people to join the conversation by submitting online questions for her to answer during the event.

The meeting will be held at 11:15 EST from the Dominican Republic where Clinton will stop on her way to the 5th Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago. State is promoting the event as an opportunity to launch a conversation with people from across the Western Hemisphere to discuss the issues that summit participants will examine during the conference that runs April 17-19.

Questions can be submitted online before the event, and Clinton will also take them from the in-person audience. The event will be streamed live on the department’s Social Media Hub for the Fifth Summit of Americas, powered by Howcast. The content also will be featured on social-media sites Ustream, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Twitter, Orkut and hi5, the department said.

The summit is an example of State's efforts to use social technologies to bolster its public diplomacy efforts. During the administration of George W. Bush, the department launched the "Dipnote" blog and held programs in virtual world Second Life.

Clinton has continued efforts to harness social-media technologies to promote public diplomacy. For example, Alec Ross, known for innovative uses of social technology, recently started at State as a senior adviser.

“Doing an event like this does send a signal that this administration is extremely savvy with new media,” said Ethan Zuckerman, a research fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Zuckerman said State officials have shown they understand social media such as Twitter. However, Zuckerman said the digital town hall isn't necessarily the best example of the administration’s expertise in social media because he suspects the questions Clinton answers will be filtered and thus will not change the rules of the road of the conversation. However, Zuckereman said he hoped to be proven wrong.

Meanwhile, John Brown, a retired foreign service officer who now teaches at Georgetown University and is a senior fellow with the University of Southern California’s Center on Public Diplomacy, cautioned against officials becoming overly focused on technique, adding that in his experience, nothing replaces face-to-face contact.

“I think the more the State Department experiments and uses new media the better; I’m just very cautious about hyping them,” he said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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