Diplomacy and New Media: A Rich Conversation Between James Fallows and John Podesta at Gov 2.0 Summit

It’s not often that a conference can synthesize relevant technology and policy communities, but the O’Reilly Media Gov 2.0 Summit did just that. The most compelling example of synthesizing technology and policy was the rich dialogue at the close of day one between James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly and John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress.

The dialogue between Fallows and Podesta revealed how each participant understood the role of new media in diplomacy and public policy. Like a hopeful prospector Podesta probed Fallows for evidence that new media was actively shaping public perception of US policy overseas. Fallows, who spent much of the last three years in China, maintained that new media has not yet become sufficiently mainstream to affect public perception. Based on Fallows’ observations, broadcast media, movies and music still play the fundamental role of shaping perception of America and Americans overseas.

Fallows engaged Podesta directly on health care reform. Podesta is optimistic that new media can effectively overcome institutional barriers inherent in traditional media by directly reaching a large enough demographic to influence the outcome.

The Pew Center’s New Media Index shows evidence of interest in health care reform in the blogosphere. During the second week of August 24% of postings from bloggers were about health care. That same week on Twitter, however, only 3% of tweets pertained health care reform. The number one topic, at 16%, was Microsoft’s support for Internet Explorer 6 through 2014. In fact, four of the top five topics on Twitter were technology-related, which could indicate the Twitter audience is more technology-oriented. However, blogging is more suited to analysis than Twitter’s 140-character limit, so perhaps we should expect to find more policy discussions in the blogosphere.

Is new media sufficiently influential to affect diplomacy and policy outcomes? According to the dialogue between Fallows and Podesta as well as the New Media Index, there isn’t enough evidence just yet, but health care is one key policy outcome to watch.