#AskState: U.S. State Department to take questions from Twitter at the podium

Under Secretary McHale Participates in the State Department's First Global "Twitter Q&A"
Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith Mchale, center, participates in the State Department's first global Twitter Q & A, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2011.

As part of what it is calling “21st Century Statecraft Month,” State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland will be taking questions from Twitter from up at the podium during the Daily Press Briefing each Friday afternoon during the month of January. Questions can be submitted using the #AskState hashtag.

The questions will be selected from the Department’s 10 official Twitter feeds, which now include tweets in Arabic, Chinese, English, Farsi, French, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Urdu:

Whether this is a public relations exercise or another step towards the next generation of digital public diplomacy will depend upon whether State is willing to directly take on its fiercest critics, a constituency that will likely be active on the #askstate hashtag.

While this is an interesting experiment, it’s important to note that the State Department will still be choosing which questions to answer. In a press briefing, Nuland can choose the questioner but not the question. If Nuland would commit to taking the 3 most retweeted questions, say, that would be one thing. Here, they can be selective. For instance, if asked about the Wikileaks saga, sales of American surveillance gear to foreign governments or past State Department involvement in South America, will they take the questions?

There’s also the quiet reality that P.J. Crowley, the former state department spokesman, was (and is) quite active on Twitter as @PJCrowley during his tenure. As far as I know, Nuland doesn’t have an account, which effectively means they’re doing less of that particular brand of 21st century digital diplomacy, not more. @JaredCohen, who has moved on to Google, is similarly no longer a voice for ‘digital diplomacy’ on Twitter, leaving the mantle of being State’s primary “face” on social media on the shoulders of @AlecJRoss, although, to be fair, dozens of other staffers, embassies and officials are on Twitter now as well, from @USMariaOtero to UN @AmbassadorRice.

I’ve posed a question about the State Department’s official stance on the Stop Online Piracy Act, since its passage would seem very likely to directly impact its Internet freedom policy and funding for circumvention technologies. If State takes the question, they’d post it on their YouTube channel.

Below, I’ve embedded a Storify that includes a sample of many other questions that have been asked to date: