High-Tech Diplomacy

By Morozov, Evgeny | Newsweek International, September 28, 2009 | Go to article overview

High-Tech Diplomacy


Morozov, Evgeny, Newsweek International


Byline: Evgeny Morozov; Morozov is a fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York.

As Barack Obama continues to put his stamp on U.S. foreign policy, he would do well to use the growing role that high-tech firms have been playing lately on the world stage to his advantage. In the age of Facebook and Twitter, U.S. firms project a lot of digital soft power, which could be used to advance America's foreign interests.

It wouldn't be the first time American businesses spearheaded the country's engagement with the outside world. Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Warner Brothers, and other giants in the past helped to shape the foreign image of the United States, generating tremendous cultural capital along the way. Globalization put a taint on that image for a while, but lately Silicon Valley has been leading the way back into global fashion.

The agenda of U.S. high-tech firms has for the most part been conspicuously well-meaning (think of Google's motto, "Don't be evil"). Even Microsoft, the target lately of Europe's anticompetition police, seems benign next to, say, Chevron or Halliburton. Millions of users, from China and Turkey to Saudi Arabia and Russia, have become addicted to Google's services, worship Apple's slick gadgets, and spend much of their time on Facebook and Twitter. Ordinary Russians or Chinese may not care for what goes on in Washington, D.C., but they love what they see coming out of Palo Alto.

This is good news for the U.S. State Department. American tech firms, by pursuing their commercial interests, have created a global communications infrastructure. The Kindle, Amazon's reading device for books and periodicals, could easily make censorship obsolete, yet it's unavailable in any country but the United States. …

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