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Social Media and Foreign Policy

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Cody Levine

on 20 March 2014

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Transcript of Social Media and Foreign Policy

Social Media and Foreign Policy
The impact of social media on foreign policy is a relatively new frontier within the larger sub-field of media and politics. As interpersonal communication vis-as-vis the medium of social media continues to grow in influence with respect to disseminating messages across to a large audience. The question that will be addressed, drawing from academic Stuart Soroka's model on media, foreign policy and public opinion, will look at how the move to social media for news and perspectives on foreign policy has impacted public perceptions on issue salience(Sororka, 27). In other words, to what effect has social media, with all its properties, changed how people view issues in terms of importance, subsequently impacting policy preferences. The research question being addressed will also draw from existing literature on media and foreign policy for comparative analysis to discussions on other medium, and will exemplify differences.
Existing Literature on Social Media and Foreign Policy

Entman, Robert M. “Declarations of Independence: The Growth of Media Power After the Cold War.” in Brigitte L. Nacos, Robert Y. Shapiro and Pierangelo Isernia, eds.,
Decision-making in a Glass House: Mass Media, Public Opinion, and American and European Foreign Policy in the 21st Century.
(New York: Rowman and Littlefield), (2000) 11-26. Print.

Price, Monroe. "End of Television and Foreign Policy." The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 625,1 (2009): 196-204. Print.

Soroka, Stuart. “Media, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy,” Harvard International Journal of Press and Politics 8,1 (2002): 27-48. Print.

Livingston, Steven, and Todd Eachus. "Humanitarian Crises and U.s. Foreign Policy: Somalia and the Cnn Effect Reconsidered." Political Communication. 12.4 (1995): 413. Print.

Shirky, Clay. "The Political Power of Social Media." Foreign Affairs. 20 Dec. 2010. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. <http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67038/clay-shirky/the-political-power-of-social-media>.
Foreign Policy and the Twitter Age
Notwithstanding the typical spectacles that evil James Bond Villain Elliot Carver is prone to, he nonetheless raises a crucial point with regards to the issue of scope. His intent at centralizing all media and manipulating stories to perpetuate a fake a crisis in the South China Sea, Carver also implies tremendous transnational implications for global stability. The broad reach Carver's media group, along with its numerous mediums, may also point to the influence that the structure of media has in relation to society. With respect to social media, does the structure of the system as used by the public have implications on foreign policy issue salience, and if so, what are those implications?

The existing academic literature on the topic is scarce given the fact social media is a relatively new phenomena in the political arena. Although some scholars, such as Monroe Price, recognize the patterns internet technologies. In his work, Price looks at how the transformation and the addition of internet mediums has altered the capacity of states to control their own foreign policy agendas (Price, 196). Indeed he describes some of the foreign policy media effects within the new information structure:
In academic Stuart Soroka's work "Media, Public Opinion, and Foreign Policy," he looks at the interrelated nature between the salience of foreign policy issues as mentioned in the media, and its resulting impact on public perception, which in turn comes to effect certain policy preferences of the populace (Soroka, 27). Moreover, he also addresses the potential effects that varying issue salience would have on issue priming and the reaction of policymakers, though for the purposes of the research question the former will be used (Soroka, 27). This will be elaborated on the next slide.
The main assumption in addressing this research question is that the structure of media's relations with the public has shifted in the digital age to make way for social media. This, in turn, comes to shift public opinion insofar that its a new medium which, structurally, may come with different media effects on foreign policy that is espoused by those who focus on television, such as in Livingston's famous theory dubbed "the CNN effect." Indeed, the consequences of a shifting public perception, as a result of social media influences would shape foreign policy issues salience, which impacts the resulting foreign policy preferences. In another respect, the notion that older generations do not use social media has increasingly been dispelled, which can add credence to the value of the theory for determining effects.
The analysis of the new media effects as result of social media will focus on some of the inherent structural tenets of websites such as Facebook or Twitter, along with some of less popular ones. In addition, attention will also be paid towards the components of social media, such as additional filters, image regulation and the system itself.
This is a link to an online reading that demonstrates the new power as a medium that social media now possesses: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/67038/clay-shirky/the-political-power-of-social-media
Foreign Policy, Social Media and Issue Priming
The assumption here is that social media, whether it be facebook, twitter and others create an additional lens in which to interpret information. This does not necessarily correspond to the extent elaborated by Chomsky and Hermann's propaganda model, but it nonetheless is significant. With regards to foreign policy, the priming of posting opinions on ones social media web page with a link to the article will effects article interpretation. In the case below, the personal opinions on which actions should should be used following the Russia-Georgia conflict in 2008 is listed as the headline, resulting into priming effect towards potential readers.
This second example above also exhibits the nature of priming, with this case even revealing clear political biases with respect to the India-Pakistan conflict. The implication being that people are influenced by this conversation before reading the article
Limited regulation of images on Social Media
In this case, an extremist organization in Syria posts pictures on Twitter depicting the removal of a man's hand as punishment.
Another factor that reflects the advent of social media foreign policy issue salience can be found with limited regulation of images on social media websites. Following the same logic proposed by Entman that (traditional) media dramatic visual depictions will shape public opinion, the notion that more relaxed abilities to post picture revealing the extreme brutalities of war can impact issue salience on the basis of shock (Entman, 23). In other words, organization or individuals increased capacity on social media to reveal shocking images, upon which may not be permitted on traditional medium. The implication for foreign policy issue salience results from the more drastic emotional responses, which impacts public opinion more.
Framing and Message Control On Social Media
As exemplified by the various examples, the advent of social media has led states to determine in their own right what foreign policy issues should be considered salient, which is further magnified by appealing to the sensibilities of a mass audience, as in the video featuring the Iranian Foreign Minister on nuclear weapons and energy. The logic behind this notion is for the mass potential of a clip or post, as with the "Twitter War" between Israel and Hamas, such as in a more discernible rally-around-the-flag-effect, for example with regards to constiuents but also larger audiences (Livingston & Eachus, 415) . In these cases, both states and aspiring states were able to communicate single messages to audiences without affect of post-interview debates, as an example.
Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Twitter: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/9681645/Israelis-and-Palestinians-in-first-Twitter-war.html

Impact of Social Media Structure and Process on Foreign Policy Issue Salience
The basis for this assumption stems from the process of using social media and its impact on foreign policy salience. In practical application, this can amount to "liking" a politically-related issue on Facebook, which can result in suggestions towards similar topics. Indeed, the implication is that of reinforcing or promoting particular viewpoints of issues of foreign policy over a period of time.
Note: I did not "like" this.
One can predict that these ideas may inundate people with similar political messages
U.S-based survey from Pew Research
The case presented raises new questions on how media effects adjust to a change in the structure of the medium. In this case, the application of Soroka's model on foreign policy, public opinion and issue salience has provided a framework for studying the new impacts of social media. Although difficulties may arise when it comes to empirical methods and quantification, given the complication for finding appropriate measurements.
A secondary point at issue would be the impact of those already inclined to political knowledge on foreign policy issues, which may mitigate what certain individuals may deem as "important," having minimal impact on their opinions. Though, the interpersonal structure of social media, in which people's "friends" post articles and interpret, may yield some interesting results or confirm existing sociological notions.
Another factor is the propensity of social media's to heighten existing perceptions in more extreme manners, which may be related to the structure of the medium, and the lax regulation unseen on traditional mediums. Nevertheless, social media and public opinion will continue to grow as a field worthy of study given its potential.
"Since the rise of the Internet in the early 1990s, the world's networked population has grown from the low millions to the low billions. Over the same period, social media have become a fact of life for civil society worldwide, involving many actors -- regular citizens, activists, nongovernmental organizations, telecommunications firms, software providers, governments. This raises an obvious question for the U.S. government: How does the ubiquity of social media affect U.S. interests, and how should U.S. policy respond to it?" (Shirkey)
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