The delegation visited Russia as a part of Clinton's "21st Century Statecraft" initiative. Lead by DoS's Jared Cohen, the group included high-profile tech people such as eBay CEO John Donahoe, Mozilla Foundation Director Mitchell Baker, and Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter. Kutcher, as the most popular Tweeter, with more than 4.5 million followers, was going to take care of the visit's "celebrity glitz".
They were supposed to hold important meetings with important Russian officials about important technological projects and discuss the importance of social media in fostering open society. All in the name of opening up yet another field of cooperation and partnership between the two countries, and, perhaps with the hope of establishing closer ties between the web and social media enthusiasts from both the US and Russia (even if just symbolically). Buzz words such as "empowerment," "multi-stakeholder partnership," "E-Government," as well as pompous promises of creating a Russian Silicone Valley or establishing closer corporate cooperation were flying all over the place.
It's all supposed to be great and promising. However, the DoS seems to have overlooked several tiny-bity but very important points:
--> Kutcher - Come on! Couldn't they do better? Not only can't he put a decent sentence together [seemed like someone had given him a list of "key terms" to sprinkle his speeches with, and instead, he just came up with an incoherent sequence of babbling: see video], but his very credibility as a "celebrity diplomat" is to be questioned. The St. Petersburg Times pretty much captured the attitude. CNN's Fortune Brainstorm Tech went even further, detailing some of the Tweet-achievements of the delegation members. Certainly recommend reading the whole piece (makes for a good laugh!), but here are a couple of highlights:
# Howcast CEO Jason Liebman apparently had some advice to share with his enthusiastic young followers on how to play beer pong.
# Cohen described the visit in a tweet as "facilitating peeps-2-peeps".
(Image courtesy of My Opera)
--> More importantly, Spinternet - While the US thinks social networking sites and 140-character-long messages can foster freedom and openness, it fails, once again, to capture foreign thinking and understand how things work elsewhere. To fall back on Evgeny Morozov's points: Kremlin is actively seeking to use the Internet and the social networking sites to "promote state interests"; while he also warns against embracing a myth of "techno-utopia", especially in less democratic states.
--> Don't get me started on corruption and the power of the state...
It seems like the visit was not very fruitful, and it even failed to gain significant media attention. Was it because the DoS's approach in this case was fundamentally wrong and not really appropriate for the circumstances, or was it Kutcher's fault?
P.S. - I just really hope Armenia doesn't come up with the bright idea of enlisting Kim Kardashian to do our official Public Diplomacy [which seems to be close to non-existent at the moment, by the way]. After all, she's got more than 3 million followers and ranks the 7th in the Top Tweeter list. But then in PD, unlike in celebrity PR, the motto "bad publicity is still publicity" can be dangerous...