Last month, the US Embassy in Baghdad rolled out its new online program called "Window Into the US Embassy." The program is a series of broadcast using the the embassy's YouTube channel to reach Iraqis online.
Aaron Snipe, formerly of PRT Muthanna and now deputy spokesperson at the US Embassy in Iraq says that "through this program, we hope viewers will participate and learn more about the Embassy's latest news on Political, Economical, Cultural and Educational, and other matters as they relate to the United States diplomatic mission in Iraq." ( He writes a personal blog Wing Tips on the Ground here).
The introduction video highlights the embassy's Arabic-speaking FSOs like Beth Smith from the Pol Section, Ellen Peterson from Public Affairs, and Cynthia Cook from the Consular Section. It has about 5,500 views as of this writing; the few comments left by users range from somebody who wanted a job at the embassy and one who writes "very nice and good Job, But we want from US Embassy to make the immigration to U.S Easier , thanks."
The intro video was also carried by DipNote which prompted a snicker from TSB over at The Skeptical Bureaucrat. He meant no offense and explained why.
We asked Aaron what he envisions for this Windows initiative down the road? Here's what he told us:
"So much of what we've been talking about with Iraqis has been focused strictly on security and politics. All of our press conferences and interviews with Iraqi journos are so serious and buttoned up. We've been mired in talking only about government formation, and I want to put the new relationship front and center using social media. I want to create a venue where Iraqis can see non-native Arabic-speaking diplomats engaging the Iraqi populace on normal things. The security situation is still tough and it's difficult to get out and engage with people here in Baghdad. We think "Windows" will give us an opportunity to engage Iraqis about "normal" things."
Last week, a new installment in the series was posted online with FSO Cynthia Cook talking about visas:
The above video has less views but more comments than the intro video. The clip itself is about 5 minutes and offers just a brief peek into a slice of an embassy operation. But we note that Ms. Cook has made time to respond to the comments left online. A nice change from just having a nameless bureaucrat named US Embassy Baghdad respond to its fans/users.
Given the difficulties in going up and about in Iraq, we hope that Aaron and his team can sustain and expand this kind of online engagement. This would require not just a lot of energy, but also time, lots of creativity and a new way of looking and doing things. Of course, the natural question thereafter would be -- what's next? After you have this new venue and create new relationships online, what do you do? If the answer to that is to create an online community, we would need an answer to the why -- why would Iraqis want to hang out in the US embassy's online digs in FB or YouTube? And if the online community is not the goal, then what is? We're curious on how deep an engagement the embassy is looking for here.
Besides its YouTube channel, the US Embassy Baghdad is also on Facebook with some 7500 fans. We do think that its FB page is still stingy with its photos. VP Joe Biden visited Baghdad recently and it posted ONE single photo of the visit. The US Embassy in Pakistan had exactly two photos of the visit in its website but its FB page also had a Joe Biden Quiz. The US Embassy Kabul, of course, did not disappoint, posting 27 photos of the VPOTUS on its Flickr page.