Digital Diplomacy, 4 years and now change.

Wow. There is a sea change happening in the Middle East. The 2013 Iranian Election will mark the end of one cycle, and the beginning of another. What a long path to this point.

The cycle ending is the cycle of the first few revolutions/civil wars and government overthrows that happened in full view of, and in part due to social media. The one beginning is going to become the post-social media middle east. One where the power of the people, won out, country after country.

Just a brief history.

In the late spring and early summer of 2009, Iran was in the throes of pre-election frenzy. There was a moderate trying to overthrow the conservative leadership through peaceful, democratic means. But it turned bad, and turned bad fast. The Green Revolution as it was called, inspired people to great heights of hope and also tremendous depths of despair that resulted from the horrific human rights abuses, torture, death, kidnappings, rapes, that were committed by the Iranian Government and it’s religious and civil allies to prevent the Green Revolution from succeeding.

I documented this struggle of the Green Revolution on Twitter, on Facebook and on You2Gov which was the website I had started in 2008 and which we put into hiatus in 2010. Here is the twitter history. In fact it was this period with the efforts I and many others did to document the digital, social history; and to learn from it that was one of the reasons I started “Gov20LA” in the first place. People’s voices need to be heard. In a good and positive way that allows everyone, those in government and those outside to feel comfortable making changes. Changes have to come from multiple parts of society not just one. But this has to be in moderation.

Since then we have seen the Occupy movements spring up in cities around the world. We have seen Tunisia, and Egypt fall with in the same week almost in 2011. I talked about this at the opening of Gov 2.0 L.A in 2011. We actually did a “Digital Diplomacy Panel” at the 2011 Gov20LA event. In part the exploding use of social media and mobile technology was openly discussed in a live stream during that panel.

Now, we see Turkey struggling with their own version of the “Arab Spring” that many people are referring to as #OccupyGezi on Twitter and other social media. Syria and Russia are going through massive social change again, with Syria in middle of a bloody and growing civil war; and Russia moving to limit rights of protestors, and curtailing free speech more and more.

But four years after the Green Revolution, the people of Iran have delivered a surprise to the world. A moderate. With none of the bloodshed or violence of the Green Revolution from four years ago. This time around #Iranelection is a positive hashtag with huge meaning. No longer meaning death, torture.

I think it is time for Syria, Turkey, Russia to pay attention and start making changes now. Because clearly, the power of the people when amplified by social media and mobility, is world changing power. Power in the hands of the people.

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Rocking Citizen Power in 2012.

As the 3rd annual Gov 2.0 L.A. (Gov20LA) approaches on April 21, 2012; I have been thinking a lot about why I started this conference and what it means for you, for me and for our futures. A few years back I wrote this piece “What is Gov20LA All About?”

In the 3 years since we have seen huge growth in social media, cloud computing, mobile technologies and the subsequent explosion of citizen involvement with our governments. This has caused all kinds of situations, good and bad. On the good we are seeing country after country begin to adopt open data and transparent aspects to their internal and external operations. We have seen citizens empowered to use their voice, many for the first time ever. We have witnessed several countries fall to “soft power” of people organizing, and then acting on the organization to effect change of a type we have never seen in our collective human history. On the bad, we are seeing totalitarian governments around the world cling to these new technologies and indeed even the people’s response to them; to crack down, imprison people, kill people and break up organized groups.

I have written in the past about the two headed side of #gov20 and social media in general with regard to Governments and the people who interact with them. This dichotomy is growing, not abating. We see people using technologies to force change yet at same time we are witnessing governments around the world investigate the same technologies to prevent change.

Gov20LA was created to act as a forum to collect the best and brightest people and their ideas and enable them to tell the world their stories. The idea has always been to empower people through learning about the cutting edge applications of technology in government and by the companies servicing them. We feel that by letting you see the speakers in a casual, yet live setting online – we all can learn from the human conversation and dialogue.

Technology is great, solves lots of problems and saves money when properly applied. The problem with most technology conferences and events is they are too jargon laden and usually do not encourage open dialogue with the speakers. We do the opposite. We want the dialogue. We want our speakers interacting both with the live audience in the room and the global Internet TV audience. So we have created an open environment, with some truly amazing people from inside and outside government leading the dialogue.

I am personally so humbled and excited by the continued awesome response Gov20LA receives worldwide. I can’t wait for this year. Join me. Thank you.

Fear of change brought on by sudden onslaught of #gov20

My business partner and I were in meetings this week with a government agency dealing with sudden onslaught of “Gov 2.0.” Deja Vu. It came full blast this week from the year 2008. We might as well have been in an episode of the TV show “Fear Factor” as at some points fear was the major chasm to be crossed in the room.

Government 2.0 initiatives have been in full force since late 2009, early 2010. In 2008, however, the U.S. Government had not yet passed the Open Government Directive or the Joint Chiefs of Staff Open Source memo milestones. Officials were scared of change. Social media was a big angry beast that was not understood, not clearly developed in a government sense and something just to shy away from.

But we have moved to a point where major federal agencies not only have printed and published guidelines and existing working programs – but we are witnessing global cooperation on the Government 2.0 stage and collaboration is now fostering success. In late September of 2011 there will be a meeting of over 20 countries dedicated to Open Government and Government 2.0 around the globe. This is an exciting time for people like myself, advocating, pushing, pulling and even getting yelled at to accomplish change.

But still fear lingers, its wraith like fingers coming in the dead of night, or in the depth of a boardroom on a sunny day. Social media has its heroes and demons alike that is clear. But mobility, social connectivity and the desire for more transparency and openness create strange bedfellows. Just when an agency indicates a real need for Gov 2.0 – someone inevitably throws cold water. Sometimes freezing cold water, but still the movement continues, and the forward progression of the adoption of a new way of business for government continues uni-directionally.

My solution for fear based discussions about Gov 2.0? Look around. See all the successful implementations of open data, of social connectivity for Government and Citizens alike and see the results. It is not hard to find an example of government agencies adopting various parts of this big picture. Just ask your local fire department how they are using location based services. Or ask your local police department how they monitor social media for evidence of crimes. Look at the military using social media in offensive, defensive methods as well as for recruiting and publicity. Look at how the FBI regularly uses social media to tell the story about what they do. Look at the State Department’s continual innovations in new uses of mobility and social media. That is how your agency overcomes fear brought on by a sudden onslaught of Gov 2.0.

Is your social media profile real, or fake?

We are rushing into a world of social awareness, social politics, and social media entering almost any facet of our lives. But there is no gatekeeper yet. The lack of gatekeepers is enabling fake social media accounts to be set up, maintained and used in ways from just annoying, to truly dangerous.

President Obama recently held the first ever Twitter town hall for a President of the U.S. While he was busy answering questions there were teams of people assessing questions and assisting in the background. The assumption in this situation was that the twitter accounts that were being used to ask questions were actually from real people.

This assumption about reality is probably false, at least a bit. There are already concerns surrounding this twitter town hall, with the possibility of fake accounts being used to pose questions. This follows news of Fox News Twitter account being “hacked” to send out tweets about the assassination of President Obama. While this is a horrifying example, FOX did correct itself and issued an apology to the White House. However, most of the faked social media accounts are maintained by people or smaller groups without the resources or ethical obligation to either correct false information; or potentially even with the desire to create harm.

As early as 2008, people started focusing on the issues around fake social media accounts, with the initial emphasis being on identity theft and how to protect one’s own name. Now the issues are being elevated to politics, security, and even warfare.

The Obama administration is exploring lots of different uses of social media. So are other government agencies. It turns out there are even government contractors who have not only developed software platforms to create and maintain fake social media accounts; but are now attempting to sell such platforms to the government and corporations. The “HBGary” story is just one example of this recent trend. It turns out there are lots of companies making tools like this. But not many are making solutions yet.

There are many stories appearing in multiple media outlets about the emerging problem with faked social media accounts. Even the Pope has weighed in about the problem of faked social media accounts giving the whole issue a level of realness not seen for other technology issues. When the Pope weighs in on something like this it should make people think about it. The U.S. Military has publicly acknowledged that it too has been involved in this, recently hiring a company to do just that.

How to solve this? This is a good question. It is my opinion that we won’t see “solutions” to this problem until a faked social media account is used to enact murder, kidnapping or some other nefarious act and the media hops on this as “what can people do about this?” Already smart law firms are creating practises around “fixing the problem of fake social media accounts.” If one google or bing searches the term “fake social media accounts” there are thousands of stories about the negative side of this, very few mentions if any of ways to combat this emerging problem.

Shift in Political Landscape

Political Power for Real People

Political Power for Real People

September 17, 2008

Below is a white paper analysis of You2Gov done by Robby Berthume, the CEO of Epsilon Concepts which is a company that is independent of You2Gov. Thanks Robby.

The original link is:

http://www.epsilonconcepts.com/blog/2008/09/17/you2govcom

There’s a Shift in the Political Landscape and You’re Invited

You2gov.com

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Alan Silberberg, CEO of You2Gov.com, a former White House staffer for former President Bill Clinton, to discuss his exciting new political social networking website. In addition to discussing You2Gov’s current and soon-to-be released features for users, we also discussed the evolution of politics in the new digital era and how social media is changing the landscape – fascinating to observe a whole new era of political action develop right before our eyes!?

Silberberg explained that he built You2Gov for one reason: to empower real people by providing them with extensive political communications tools and resources on a social network platform. Silberberg’s goal is provide the tools and information that will allow regular Americans to learn more about the issues they care about; form online communities with like-minded citizens; and to take action by using the simple tools available on You2Gov’s social network platform.

Silberberg made the great point that lobbyists often represent billion dollar corporations that are able to influence politicians in a variety of ways and that You2Gov.com provides a platform that shows average citizens that they too can be influential, just like the lobbyists – and that exercising their democracy is not as difficult as one might think.

On the information side, You2Gov.com aims to provide customized, relevant and current information about what’s going in the user’s political world, whether local or national. The web site is populated with valuable timely and relevant content that is provided both by You2Gov and its users, including current news, videos, useful links, a national calendar of events, a burgeoning forum community, and a government database that allows users to connect with the appropriate elected officials. All of this information is aggregated in one place – it is very simple, giving You2Gov.com users no reason to leave the web site to accomplish the task at hand: ACTION!

You2Gov.com not only connects normal citizens like you and I, but it also connects citizens (sometimes individually and sometimes coalesced as a group) with key decision makers. In the words of Silberberg, “Collectively, every American citizen owns the government, so why not leverage our collective voice?”

With the growth of You2Gov, politicians may be wary: this website presents a platform that not only aggregates all of the important information and tools, but it allows literally millions of like-minded Americans to organize themselves and take action. You2Gov gives every citizen a direct line of communication with their Government officials, allowing Americans to hold their representatives accountable. It will be interesting to see how politicians react – will they embrace the open communications or ignore it? And if it is the latter, will they really be able to get away with it given that everything will be public?

Silberberg’s site is rolling out new features periodically and users can expect a steady stream of improvements and new functionalities. According to Silberberg, “…web applications and social networking sites are like ‘legos’ nowadays. It’s not a matter of reinventing the wheel, it’s about how good of a ‘lego’ builder you are.” Silberberg’s website represents this vision.

Though recently launched, his site is solid, comprehensive, and garnering attention in the media.

My main criticism/suggestion would be some key usability and design improvements, improving the registration process and making things even more intuitive and easy-to-use. The features themselves are great and Silberberg’s vision includes even better tools that are being phased in (like allowing users to fax petitions from the site and a mobile version). With just a few tweaks, there is tremendous potential for You2Gov to grow very, very quickly.

During our talk, we discussed how many social networking websites are struggling because they don’t provide enough value or utility to enough people. Many larger social networks are gaining new users, yet retention, frequency, and ad rates are all on a downward slope. It’s obvious that Silberberg has done his homework and has big plans for You2Gov. His core principles are:

  • Content is king
  • Content creates conversations
  • Conversations create community
  • Communities take action

Where many social networking websites miss the boat is by focusing on number 3 alone. Or, they don’t give users the motivation or ability to actually take action or take advantage of the content and community for change. Social media, in the belief of Silberberg, represents a fundamental change in power.

He said, “Fortune 1000s and politicians alike are and will continue to be grappling with how to deal with the switch in leverage from companies, PR, and “big money” to individuals and constituents united for a cause and using social media as their megaphone.”

If you’re looking to amp up your involvement in issues you care about, I recommend logging on to You2Gov.com. They are well on their way to growing the site into a powerful force in the political spectrum.

Sign up (free) here

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