NYT: Foggy Bottom duo focus on digital diplomacy

The pair have roughly 300,000 followers on Twitter each, more than anyone in government aside from President Obama and Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainGOP senator suspending campaign fundraising, donating paycheck amid coronavirus pandemic Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Juan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal MORE (R-Ariz.). Their tweets range from updates on third-world conflicts to challenging a Syrian communications minister to a competitive cake-eating contest. The latter was one of the tweets that caused headaches for the State Department while simultaneously demonstrating the challenges of staying on-message in the Internet age.

Ross came to State from Obama’s campaign, where he often represented the then-candidate to the technology community. Cohen began at State as a protege of former Secretary Condoleezza Rice and is now the youngest member of State’s policy planning staff, as well as the author of two books. The two lead delegations of technology officials to other countries, where they seek ways to increase engagement between the U.S. and citizens of foreign nations by using social media.

Among the State Department’s efforts are a program that allows witnesses to report a crime anonymously in Mexico via text message and the text campaign that raised $40 million for the Red Cross in the wake of the January earthquake in Haiti. Cohen also contacted Twitter during the June 2009 Iranian uprising urging the company to avoid downtime, as Twitter was one of the West’s main sources of information about conditions on the ground.

Cohen failed to secure approval before contacting Twitter, an indication of how much of the policy and procedures for digital diplomacy have yet to be worked out. The pair say message control is no longer possible in the manner it used to be and that modern statecraft means letting go of control, an idea that seems heretical to the traditional diplomatic mindset.

But Clinton chose not to condemn Cohen’s actions — further evidence, according to one State official, that the Secretary is content to ride the technological wave and see where it takes the agency.