Monday, August 22, 2011

US Embassy Kabul: Facebook Diplomacy Strategery in Need of Search and Rescue

I don't know if Ambassador Eikenberry included his social media adviser in his HHE when he packed out from the US Embassy in Kabul. See, ever since he left post, the embassy's social media outreach in Facebook, Flickr, Twitter and YouTube has not been the same at all.

The embassy's YouTube channel was never much to begin with. The most recent one posted five days ago was a 1.17 min video of  the U.S. Embassy in Kabul hosting an iftar in honor of Ramazan. But it only has three videos online. So I can't grouse too much about that.

It's Flickr page which used to have quite up-to-date postings has not been updated since August 13. One of the two photos posted on that date is of the "surrounding area at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on Monday, February 7, 2011." LOL!

The other photo is an aerial view of "Parwan Province, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, June 15, 2011." Those barely visible blue thingies on the ground are called trucks.

It's Twitter page? I'm not sure you really need to clutter your follow option because even when there is breaking news and updates,!/USEmbassyKabul is not/not on it.  See this one below sent to us by one of our tipsters, S in Kabul:

But the changes in US Embassy's Facebook diplomacy strategery is nowhere more apparent than in Facebook, of course.

Much of the previous postings in its Facebook page were mission activities documented in photos posted in Flickr. But since the arrival of Ambassador Crocker, the photostream seems to have significantly dried up.  The embassy's Facebook page is now posting more virtual tours of some of the 50 states of the United States. There also seems to be more happy talk posted about the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

One post about local residents enjoying the nightlife, except the accompanying photo was taken in broad daylight.

In coordination with Uruzgan’s provincial governor and the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Tirin Kot, USAID funded the installation of 20 solar-powered street-lights in Tirin Kot. The lights were installed by Zularistan Ltd., an Afghan company, who also trained two local men selected by the mayor in how to operate and maintain them.
Local residents, shopkeepers, and security forces have all expressed their delight with the streetlights and say they have made them feel much safer. One community elder, Haji Abdul Raziq, whose home is located near one of the streetlights, said, “We are very happy about these kinds of projects. We used to be afraid at night because of the complete darkness. We hope such projects will be implemented in other parts of our province. Thanks a lot for supporting us.”

Another post about local residents enjoying the night, accompanying photo below also taken in broad daylight. Perhaps, Ambassador Eikenberry also packed out in his HHE the embassy's night photographer?

The remote district of Jani Kheyl in Paktika Province is home to approximately 35,000 people belonging mainly to the Molalzai, Jani Kheyl, and Malzai tribes. The Jani Kheyl bazaar, located in the district center, serves more than 500 people per day and includes four mosques, two schools, and approximately 215 shops. It has no connection to an electric grid.
Now that the new streetlights have been installed, the mood in the bazaar is much more positive. The new lights help the police patrol the area so that people feel safer and are staying out later at night, all of which has been a boon to business.
Khan Mohammad, a resident of Jani Kheyl bazaar, added: “Now everyone knows that the lights come on at night and they’re spending more time outside till late in the evening. The street-lights have helped the police a lot in patrolling the bazaar. They make the roads look nice too!”

Two is not a trend, of course, but we'll be watching how many more "Afghans enjoying the night" posts the embassy is able to come up with for our reading/viewing pleasure.

A couple of things that are particularly disturbing -- postings cited above were on the same week when the Brits suffered an attack of its British Council right in Kabul; there was no mention of that in FB. Not even a note of sympathy. I say disturbing because it's like the embassy is in a different universe; things are falling apart except inside the diplomatic compound.

In any case, the happy notes on the embassy's reconstruction efforts are written in English, not in Dari or Pashto.  So I'm also wondering which segment of the online population is the embassy trying to influence with these notes? Certainly not the Afghans!

Then there is this one post on Afghan women topping the judges class:
As a result of war and government instability, judicial training has been sporadic and largely inaccessible to women, with only 26 classes graduating over the 43-year history of the country’s Judicial Stage program. With USAID assistance, in May 2011, 140 students graduated from the Supreme Court’s Judicial Stage program, qualifying them to work as judges in courts throughout Afghanistan. As a whole, the 24 women in this year’s graduating class performed exceptionally well, taking nine of the top ten class positions.

One of its FB fans had the temerity to question the posting:

"So if 8% of the judges are female, where will these graduates of the Stage program go? Are there jobs for them in Afghanistan, or is this a program, that, with all of its good intentions, does not have the capacity to support actual judicial appointments upon graduation?"
So far no response from the embassy and it does not look like there is anyone there actually doing the engaging online besides the technical "engage," the Captain Picard kind.. 

I'm not sure how many more Afghans enjoying the night posts I can tolerate before I unfriend the embassy.  Of course, this could all be part of its new strategery of online "engagement" ...

And who knows what happened to the embassy's social media driver. What is clear is that Embassy Kabul needs to mount a search and rescue for its Facebook diplomacy. 

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