The world of Wikileaks Part 2: A means of evaluating Public Diplomacy

By Ali Fisher

Wikileaks Part 2 looks at the impact of releasing information through the traditional media on the network of interactions using social media and reflects on the potential to use network analysis in evaluation. (See also The Small World of Wikileaks, Part 1.)

image From a Strategic Communications and Public Diplomacy perspective, evaluation has become increasingly important with forthcoming reports and even spending decisions, for example, in the UK. If an organisation is seeking to develop lasting relationships, seeking to subsequently identify those relationships would be a logical part of any evaluation or bid for further funding.

The example of Wikileaks has much in common with those engaged in Public Diplomacy and seeking to measure their attempts to disperse information on specific issues. In terms of Public Diplomacy, Wikileaks part 1 discussed creating a baseline of interactions and information sharing behaviours. Part 1 also highlighted that information about Wikileaks was trapped in a 'Small World' limiting the ability of Wikileaks to go mainstream.

The opportunity to identify change from that baseline was presented by the release of documentation to the New York Times, Guardian and Der Spiegel. The data represented here was collected in the 3 days following the release of documents.

There are similarities; a large number of users RT information tweets from Wikileaks but none of their followers decide to subsequently RT. In addition, as in the network in part 1, there are a smaller number of long chains through which the information is RT numerous times.

image The first difference is the size of the network; despite the short timeframe, the network is significantly larger than before the documents were released. EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) and blprnt (Jer Thorp - Data Artist in Residence at the New York Times) and Front Line Club became nodes from which users RT information.

Second, the range of nodes that RT information about Wikileaks has broadened noticeably. The hacker community is still present but many more 'mainstream' nodes now RT information about Wikileaks and in-turn others RT that content.

BBC News, BBC World, Time, NYT, and the Wall Street Journal now have a significant presence in the network, demonstrating that the information is now breaking out of the original small world of those hackers and looking at technology based websites. This is not to say Mashable, Kpoulsen, Wired and Glen Greenwald are no longer influential. They were. However, new key nodes in the network act as bridges to the mainstream and into other small worlds that were previously beyond the reach of the original network. For example, a number of users RT from Eva Golinger: a Venezuela-based award-winning Attorney and Author of the best-selling book, The Chávez Code, amongst other titles.

Applying this to PD / SC;

a) Contrasting the network that disperses information before and after an event, project or initiative, creates the potential to evaluate a shift in information sharing behaviour within that network. Do more people share information; do new hubs disperse information to new networks? Alternatively, despite the best efforts of an organisation, does sharing behaviour remain unchanged? This could be a planned release or managed event; alternatively, it could be a leak. Either way, the impact of that information on sharing behaviour can be evaluated. Equally, this may not be information from a PD organisation - it may well be information that a PD organisation might wish to counter: information that is being produced by an adversarial network.

b) This approach adds to the more common tendency to rely on volume of coverage or 'trends' in social media. Analysing the network allows an organisation to identify nodes key to dispersing information. It presents the possibility of targeting nodes whose content tends to be spread through RT numerous times. This information can be used both to counter negative stories and for planning future information releases, as it identifies people who self select to pass on information and those who have the ability to trigger chains of information dispersal.

Strategic communications are conducted in a world of networks. For those concerned with evaluation or funding of Public Diplomacy one key consideration is how aware the respective PD / SC organisations are of the networks;

  • in which they work,
  • with which they work
  • that they are seeking to build
  • that they are seeking to challenge

In an environment where many governments are looking to limit financial commitments and most are looking to ensure efficiency and value, organisations without the ability to monitor or evaluate these networks may struggle to demonstrate the impact or sustainability of the relationships which programmes are intended to create.

Ali Fisher works with governments, charities, companies, and NGO on best practice for online engagement, network building and organisational change. He specialises in providing insight through network analysis to enhance organizational strategy and evaluation. More network visualisations can be seen at HumansHuddle.com.

Guests posts are the opinions of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of MountainRunner.us. They are published here to further the discourse on America's global engagement.

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