In a speech launching the new initiative, Ambassador Jerry Lanier recognized that social media is more than a way to stay in touch with friends. It is one of the new battlefields where the war for free speech is being fought:
What is clear…is that internet Freedom is no different from the freedom of religion or the freedom of speech. Internet freedom is becoming the freedom of assembly for the 21st century. Blogs, emails, social networks, and text messages have opened up new forums for exchanging ideas, and created new targets for censorship.
Efforts of some governments to deny their citizens unfettered internet access is no different than the construction of the Berlin Wall. Virtual walls are replacing visible walls. Some governments have erected electronic barriers to prevent their people from accessing portions of the world’s networks and have expunged words, names, and phrases from search-engine results that they didn’t like.
These actions violate the privacy of citizens who engage in nonviolent political speech. They contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which tells us that all people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of borders.
Hopefully these new venues will increase the flow of information from the embassy, as well as providing an opportunity for Ugandans to ask questions about the actions and policies of the United States in Uganda.
And hey – if an institution as dowdy as the U.S. State Department has gotten on board with social media, you know it is a force to be reckoned with.