Sen. Lugar, State Dept. push pro-democracy efforts on Twitter

The State Department announced Thursday a new campaign encouraging international dialogue, through the social networking site Twitter, on the meaning of democracy.

“Democracy is…,” as the effort is called, intends to provide a “worldwide platform” to discuss the meaning of democracy through a hashtag #democracyis.

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“The goal is to provide a worldwide platform in which people can discuss the meaning of democracy and exchange ideas from diverse perspectives,” the agency wrote in a blog post.

Twitter hashtags allow users to track common threads of conversation on the microblogging service. The State Department has organized the effort as a contest. The winner will be announced Jan. 25 on the contest's official Facebook page.

Arguably the most prominent use of Twitter in promotion of democracy came when the Iranian opposition communicated and organized itself using the site last summer amid anti-government protests following the disputed presidential election.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in June recognized that the site played a role in helping the opposition coalesce, though she conceded, “I wouldn’t know a Twitter from a tweeter.”

The top diplomatic agency now appears to be following up on that momentum.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar (Ind.) bolstered the department’s efforts in a Wednesday op-ed in Foreign Policy.

“The adroit use of social networking sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, and others, coupled with text messages and increasingly widespread mobile-phone technology, can help lend support to existing grassroots movements for freedom and civil rights, connect people to information, and help those in closed societies communicate with the outside world,” the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wrote.

“I would encourage the administration and our diplomats to be nimble, flexible, and innovative as they pursue a wide range of foreign-policy initiatives that use these new communication and connection techniques,” he added.

Lugar also commended Clinton's hiring of Alec Ross as special adviser for innovation.

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