ICT & Public Diplomacy at Fletcher: Eric Mullerbeck


Note: This post in the fourth and final post in a series on a panel, entitled “ICT and Public Diplomacy,” at the Edward R. Murrow 100th Anniversary Conference on public diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University. The first post covered the presentation of Berkman fellow Ethan Zuckerman. The second post covered the presentation of I&D research assistant Josh Goldstein. The third post covered a discussion of online dialogue between the “East” and “West” by Abeer Mohammad.

Eric Mullerbeck is the Senior Web Manager for UNICEF. He believe that the salient elements of the Internet and public diplomacy issue are how Internet speeds up the news cycle, facilitates the spread of video, and eliminates the intermediaries so that everyone can be a publisher.

He starts with an example from 2004, the Indian Ocean Tsunami. Because it occurred on December 26th, many Western tourists were involved in the disaster. In fact, more Swedish citizens were killed in that disaster than in any other in history, due purely to the number of Swedish tourists in the regions. For UNICEF, their web site allowed them to publish their own news, including video from the ground, and reports on how the funds donated were used. UNICEF has a news team dedicated to creating content for the site, which allowed the site to publish high-quality original content on the disaster.

The web site also allowed the public to engage directly in the relief effort. When people were looking for news, they were able to find the information they were looking for on the UNICEF site, which raised the profile of the organization. In addition, visitors to the site could donate to the cause on every page of the site. Following the disaster, there was a sevenfold increase in participation in the web site, both for information and to donate. (Mr. Mullerbeck unfortunately does not have a figure for how much money was raised online)

Mr. Mullerbeck’s second example is of the Belgian UNICEF affiliate, which created a public service announcement involving the Smurf children being killed as an anti-war message. It was captured by a non-Unicef person and posted on YouTube. Many people saw it online and found it upsetting and in bad taste. It was only because of the Internet that it was available outside of Belgium. As a result, UNICEF received critical letters asking why they had created a video which could traumatize children.

Mr. Mullerbeck says that UNICEF perhaps should have responded directly to the angry e-mails and responded to comments on blogs explaining why they felt the video was justified. UNICEF’s strategy was to respond by e-mail to all letters from concerned citizens, yet there was a fair amount of vetting up the chain which slowed down the response. His take-aways are the importance of rapid response in this media age using the Internet to engage on issues important to an organization.

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