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Daniel W. Drezner

The international relations of Facebook

Earlier this week Facebook VP of Global Communications, Marketing, and Public Policy Elliott Schrage gave an interview to cfr.org that’s worth reading.  As you would expect, Schrage was pretty upbeat about the use of social networking technologies as a means for political action:  So, do I see Facebook as being an incredibly valuable tool for ...

Earlier this week Facebook VP of Global Communications, Marketing, and Public Policy Elliott Schrage gave an interview to cfr.org that’s worth reading.  As you would expect, Schrage was pretty upbeat about the use of social networking technologies as a means for political action: 

So, do I see Facebook as being an incredibly valuable tool for public diplomacy? Absolutely.

Some of the most interesting uses of Facebook have been for the purpose of social action, which is essentially political action, whether it’s an extraordinary rallying of support by the Colombian community around the world to protest the terrorist activities of FARC-the Colombian militants-or whether it’s students protesting bank fees and bank charges in Great Britain, or whether it’s the Obama presidential campaign generating almost six million supporters on Facebook as a means of communicating his policies, his positions, and his campaign activities….

Frankly speaking, some of our greater successes are in countries where the means of distributing information have not been easy or without friction. So, for example, in Colombia we have remarkable market penetration. In Indonesia we have among our fastest-growing market share. Chile, I believe we have close to 50 percent of the online population now on Facebook. In Europe we’re doing extremely well. And in the Middle East we’ve achieved very interesting degrees of penetration, and in fact just recently announced that we are launching right-to-left languages in addition to left-to-right languages.

There’s an obvious PR element to Schrage’s spiel, but then again, let’s wander over to the Financial Times’ Najmeh Bozorgmehr on how Facebook is being used in Iran’s presidential elections

As they struggle to compete against an Iranian president who enjoys the support of a powerful state apparatus, leading candidates in June’s election are resorting to Facebook to spread their messages….

“We are using new technologies because they have the capacity to be multiplied by people themselves who can forward Bluetooth, e-mails and text messages and invite more supporters on Facebook,” said Behzad Mortazavi, who is in charge of Mr Moussavi’s campaign committee.

He said the wireless technology of Bluetooth would be used “extensively” to send out speeches and photo slideshows. The supporters of Mr Moussavi have opened about 20 Facebook pages calling on others to vote for him and have attracted about 7,500 members so far.

Although Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s opponents on Facebook are not yet campaigning against his re-election, their posts may help strengthen the anti-incumbent mood among the elite.

A page called “I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad” has so far attracted more than 35,000 members, the highest number in all pages related to the president.

Yeah, the thing about that Facebook page is: 

  • 35,000 is still pretty small;
  • The site has been up for 18 months as an experiment to see of Ahmadinejad is lss popular that George W. Bush.  So far, the numbers don’t bear this out;
  • The site is administered by someone from Sweden;
  • I’m willing to bet that not everyone who’s joined is registered to vote in Iran (they all do seem to be quite attractive, however).

Question to readers:  is the power of social networking real or exaggerated in "countries where the means of distributing information have not been easy or without friction"?

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of Theories of International Politics and Zombies. His latest book is The Toddler in Chief. Twitter: @dandrezner

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