On June 12th, 1987, President Reagan challenged Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” between east and west Germany, and allow for the freedom of movement, exchange of goods, services and ideas, and, ultimately, usher in democratic reforms in eastern bloc countries within the Soviet sphere of influence.
President Reagan was the embodiment of American support for democratic movements, and he gave an in-person speech, at a specific location, as the medium of his message.
But what to make of the political protest in Egypt? What is the medium of the message of political reform, and what are the implications for governance, national security, sovereignty, and the “social compact”?
Social media is the medium through which Egyptians are expressing their message of political, societal, and economic reform. I’m not going to recount the chronology of events that led to yesterday’s “Day of Rage.” (For recap and coverage check CNN, Al Jazeera, or Flip the Media). Instead, I want to focus on the implications that digital/social media have on geopolitical events. More importantly, I’m going to situate these events under the rubric of “social mediacraft.”
Political protests are not new. Digital technology isn’t new. However, what is new is the confluence of digital and social media and geopolitical events. It doesn’t matter if the people or the technology are the “fuel,” what is important is that the cycles of information and decision-making have been inextricably compressed, creating an environment of instant gratification and uncertainty. You want an instant political protest? Hit the “political protest” button next to the like button on your Facebook feed.
Thus, what effect does digital/social media have on governance, national security, sovereignty, and our social cohesion?
In America, we observed and/or participated in the unconventional political warfare campaign of 2008, with the deployment of digital/social media tactics and capabilities in support of electing Barak Obama as president. Candidate Obama’s staff understood the power of digital/social media, and the force multiplier effect it could have on election communication goals and strategies. But once he was elected, President Obama’s staff had to figure out how to maintain information transparency and the role of open data in governing the country.
But with Wikileaks, classified government data became socialized on the internet, and the United States and other countries had to create policies balancing transparency and national security. With social media, the time/space to consume and analyze date becomes compressed, and this has serious implications for national security.
Consider statements yesterday by President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and other senior officials, saying that the situation in Egypt is fluid and unpredictable. Because Egypt’s revolution has been socialized through digital technology, both the protesters and world leaders have less time to observe events, deliberate solutions, and execute decisions.
And since geopolitical events, such as protests in Egypt and release of classified information, are socialized data, what are the implications for national sovereignty? Social media allows anyone to participate in the narrative of an event, and in effect, change the possible outcome of the event (technological equivalent of the butterfly effect). Non-state actors, asymmetrical actors, what do we call participants in a geopolitical event who aren’t present at the physical location itself? If social media technology allows information to transcend legal, tribal, customary, or sovereign borders, how are national leaders to formulate policy decisions in such a fluid and ambiguous environment?”
Answer? Social Mediacraft. Since statecraft is defined as “the art of conducting state affairs,” I define social mediacraft as, “the art of conducting geopolitical digital communications.” This newly defined art compels both the individual citizen and government apparatus alike, to develop knowledge, skills, and abilities that master digital media technologies as if they are a sovereign entity. Because digital media is compressing the time/space of geopolitical events, and taxing our current capability to observe and react, we must develop social mediacraft skills to help redefine and codify this new social compact.
What does social mediacraft look like for governments? It looks like this innovative approach to intelligence analysis my good friend Chris Rasmussen, DoD technology evangelist, is pitching in an Intelligence Community-wide contest (http://bit.ly/ghbxgN). What does it mean for businesses and private citizens? It suggests you need to develop a situational awareness of geopolitical events through digital media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Bioniceye, etc., and then develop a decision-making methodology similar to Boyd’s Loop.
Closing the loop on this post, digital/social media will continue to amplify and broadcast geopolitical events, and contribute to the their final outcome. But if the medium is the message, then the people are the medium. President Reagan understood this…
“Mr. Mubarak, turn on this internet!”