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BLOG.GOV: winning digital hearts and minds?: professionalization, personalization and ideology in foreign policy communication

Benaissa, Amal (2011) BLOG.GOV: winning digital hearts and minds?: professionalization, personalization and ideology in foreign policy communication. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Discussions of blogging as a form of political communication have mainly centred on the context of election campaigns, national domestic issues, citizen political blogging and mainstream media blogs. The rise of government blogging as an alternative news source in the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq, however, is much less addressed by scholars. This thesis examines the case of the US State Department blog Dipnote in order to study the dynamics of blogging as foreign policy communication and public diplomacy. The focus of the analysis is on posts relating to the Middle East, towards which US foreign policy attention was primarily geared after 9/11. The broader research question of this thesis attempts to determine the relative importance of professionalization, personalization and ideology in influencing the content on the official foreign policy blog of the U.S. government, in order to advance the theoretical understanding of blogging in the context of foreign policy communication and public diplomacy. A content analysis of blog posts was conducted between the period of September 2007, when the blog was launched, and March 2010. In addition to this, several interviews were conducted with the management of the blog at the State Department. Furthermore, by comparing the blog content under the Bush and Obama administrations, this study was able to trace patterns of continuities and discontinuities over time. The analytical framework is adapted from Farrell and Webb’s (2002) professionalization framework, and as such it breaks down the blog’s elements into technical, resource, and thematic developments. First, it is argued that the utilization of the blog as a cultural space is a new interpretation for foreign policy communication not previously considered in studies of government blogging in political communication or public diplomacy research. Second, blogging enables a new form of official yet casual communication which serves to legitimize American activities and presence in the Middle East through personalization and de-ideologization of content that make the blog a source of soft power. Third, the blog is a “protected space” (adapted from Gumbrecht, 2004) where the government maintains editorial control, low immediacy, low interactivity and low engagement. Overall, the findings point to the classic contradictions that the government faces both offline and online in the digital era; between openness and control, as well as secrecy and transparency, especially in the foreign policy context. In conclusion, the analysis suggests that blogging is part of an evolution and does not amount to a revolution in political communication and public diplomacy. I thus argue that in their adoption of new technology, the government moves from a new technology experimental phase to a new technology consolidation phase.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2011 Amal Benaissa
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Sets: Departments > Media and Communications
Supervisor: Chouliaraki, Lilie

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