[Senate Prints 112-26]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]

112th Congress  }                                            {  S. Prt.
  1st Session   }          COMMITTEE PRINT                   {   112-26
                      LATIN AMERICAN GOVERNMENTS 

                    NEED TO ``FRIEND'' SOCIAL MEDIA 

                             AND TECHNOLOGY 


                        A MINORITY STAFF REPORT

                      PREPARED FOR THE USE OF THE


                          UNITED STATES SENATE

                      One Hundred Twelfth Congress

                             First Session

                            October 5, 2011


                         U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE 

70-501 PDF                       WASHINGTON : 2011 

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                COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS          

            JOHN F. KERRY, Massachusetts, Chairman          
BARBARA BOXER, California            RICHARD G. LUGAR, Indiana
ROBERT MENENDEZ, New Jersey          BOB CORKER, Tennessee
BENJAMIN L. CARDIN, Maryland         JAMES E. RISCH, Idaho
ROBERT P. CASEY, Jr., Pennsylvania   MARCO RUBIO, Florida
JIM WEBB, Virginia                   JAMES M. INHOFE, Oklahoma
JEANNE SHAHEEN, New Hampshire        JIM DeMINT, South Carolina
RICHARD J. DURBIN, Illinois          JOHN BARRASSO, Wyoming
TOM UDALL, New Mexico                MIKE LEE, Utah
               William Danvers, Staff Director          
       Kenneth A. Myers, Jr., Republican Staff Director          


                            C O N T E N T S

Letter of Transmittal............................................     v
What is Social Media?............................................     1
Why Should the U.S. Government Care About Access to the Internet 
  and the Growth of Social Media in Latin America?...............     2
    Latin America Market Observations............................     5
    Country Case Study Observations..............................     6
        Brazil...................................................     7
        Colombia.................................................     7
        Mexico...................................................     8
  The Role the U.S. Plays in the Expansion of Social Media in 
  Latin America..................................................     9
  Foreign Engagement of U.S. Foreign Policy......................     9
    Strengthening Society by Strengthening Communities...........    10
    Communications and Technological Skills Enhancement..........    11
    Infrastructure Capability and Utilization Improvement........    11
    Critical Risk Minimization...................................    12
Recommendations: How the U.S. Can Further Expand Social Media in 
  Latin America..................................................    12
    Implement Technological Training Programs....................    13
    Establish Basic Information Technology Literacy Outreach.....    13
    Provide Support for Local Technological Development to Create 
      Language Resources.........................................    14
    Generate Low-Requirement Infrastructure......................    14
    Assess Critical Risks........................................    15
  Conclusion.....................................................    16
  Appendix I.....................................................    19


                         LETTER OF TRANSMITTAL


                              United States Senate,
                            Committee on Foreign Relations,
                                   Washington, DC, October 5, 2011.
    Dear Colleagues:
    I directed my senior Senate Foreign Relations Committee 
staffer for Latin America and the Carribean, Carl Meacham, to 
assess the U.S. Department of State's efforts to promote and 
strengthen democracy in Latin America through the increased use 
of social media and technology.
    In 2011, social media usage is booming and will likely 
continue to do so in the coming years. Earlier this month, it 
was reported that Facebook now has more than 800 million active 
users worldwide. Likewise, Twitter reports that it has 100 
million active users, which marks an 82% increase in activity 
from 2010. With more than 50% of the world's population under 
30 years of age, the social media and technology resources that 
are so popular within this demographic will continue to 
revolutionize communications in the future. These technologies 
can affect political change, improve government efficiency, and 
contribute to economic growth.
    Through the wave of demonstrations occurring in the Arab 
world that began in December 2010, known as the Arab Spring, 
the world witnessed how regular citizens can use social media 
and information platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google to 
mobilize against repressive governments.
    Despite Latin America's broad social and economic progress, 
many countries in the region still face challenges to democracy 
similar to those recently seen in the Middle East. In the 
extreme cases, countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua 
are led by authoritarian leaders who curtail civil and 
political freedoms. But, in general, the region's governments 
still have much work to do to ensure the rule of law, to 
maintain the security of their citizens, and to address a 
myriad of other social challenges.
    Though many Latin American governments still face these 
problems, Latin America does have the advantage of more mobile 
phone subscriptions, Internet users, broadband access, and 
secure Internet servers than the Middle East.
    Opportunities abound in the region to make government more 
effective in the provision of services to regular citizens 
through social media and information platforms. The United 
States, in particular, has a vested interest in Latin America's 
development for many reasons. These include Latin America's 
status as one of the United States' fastest growing export 
markets. Additionally, stronger, more stable democracies and 
economies in Latin America generally reduce illegal immigration 
to the United States.


    Unfortunately, Latin American governments have been slow to 
adopt social media and technology. While the Government of 
Chile is one of the few governments in Latin America to provide 
services online, only Colombia has an established budget for 
increasing technological connectivity and social media use.
    Social media and technology initiatives in Latin America 
based on political, economic, and social realities will be 
crucial to the success of associated U.S. government efforts in 
the region. Mr. Meacham's report provides significant insight 
and important recommendations for the U.S. Department of 
State's efforts to promote the effective use of social media, 
to strengthen democracy where it has taken root, and to promote 
democracy in countries where it is eroding or does not exist. I 
hope that you find the report helpful. I look forward to 
working with you on these issues and welcome any comments you 
may have.
                                          Richard G. Lugar,
                                                    Ranking Member.



          The social networking phenomenon and the expansion of 
        lightning fast information technology shrink the world 
        in wonderfully transformative ways that we have not yet 
        fully comprehended.--Senator Richard G. Lugar, 
        Commencement Address at Franklin & Marshall College, 
        May 14, 2011

    At the request of Senator Richard Lugar, the committee 
ranking member, Senate Foreign Relations Committee minority 
senior staff member for Latin America and the Carribean, Carl 
Meacham, met with U.S. Department of State staff, senior 
foreign diplomats, and industry officials over the course of 
several months to research how social media and technology 
could be used to promote and strengthen democracy in Latin 
America (see Appendix I for complete list of meetings).

                         What is Social Media?

    Social media are Internet-based media used for social 
interaction in a variety of forms including social networking, 
content sharing, and blogging. Major advances were made in the 
development of social media in the early 2000s. While social 
media have existed since the late 1990s, early sites did not 
amass large groups of users because most people did not have 
large extended online networks of friends at that time and many 
users found the functionality of these sites limited. More 
specifically, these media took off with the rapid growth of 
MySpace, whose popularity largely went unchallenged until the 
creation of a Harvard College-based social network site called 
Facebook by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004. As of September 2011, 
Facebook had over 800 million users worldwide.\1\ Other 
examples of popular social media sites include YouTube and 
Twitter. YouTube filled a vacuum by letting users easily upload 
videos to share worldwide, and in November 2006, Google 
purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion, and now offers it as a 
Google product.\2\ Similarly, Twitter, a micro-blogging site 
founded in July 2006, has approximately 200 million users today 
who share 350 million tweets, or messages of 140 characters or 
less, per day in addition to photos and additional web 
    \1\ Adam Ostrow, ``Facebook now has 800 million users,'' Mashable, 
22 September 2011,
    \2\ Ben Charny, ``Google to acquire YouTube for $1.65 billion in 
stock,'' Market Watch, 9 October 2006, http://www.marketwatch.com/
    \3\ Charlie White, ``Reaching 200 Million Accounts: Twitter's 
Explosive Growth,'' Mashable, 16 July 2011, http://mashable.com/2011/

 Why Should the U.S. Government Care About Access to the Internet and 
              the Growth of Social Media in Latin America?

    At a time when U.S. political influence is waning in the 
region, it is clear that U.S.-driven technological trends could 
redefine relationships with many countries in Latin America. 
Here is why:

   Promoting Internet freedom is aligned with the U.S. 
        strategic goal of strengthening civil society 
        worldwide. This is consistent with core American 
        beliefs regarding freedom of expression and 
        unencumbered access to information.
   Greater Internet connectivity opens new opportunities for 
        the United States and for countries in Latin America. 
        Latin American countries are among the fastest growing 
        export markets for the United States. The growth of 
        this market provides the opportunity for innovation and 
        commercial gains for United States technological 
        industry and for Latin American entrepreneurs.
   Greater Internet connectivity and the use of social media 
        platforms allow individuals in Latin America to 
        establish links or ``connect'' with individuals in the 
        United States and individuals in countries around the 
        world in all spheres of life--culture, politics, 
        business, and academia. (This is especially important 
        for the development of rural or agriculturally-based 
        communities in Latin American countries. With increased 
        access to information, contacts, and markets through 
        new technologies, these communities are more likely to 
        get better market price information, boost their 
        income, and improve their standard of living).
   Social media can strengthen civil society and the public 
        sphere in Latin American countries. These technologies 
        can allow for individuals to engage more effectively in 
        the formation and function of their own societies.
   Social media can strengthen the ability of governments to 
        be more responsive to their citizens. Through social 
        media, governments can provide services to their 
        constituents and communicate directly with them. The 
        use of this tool can improve government effectiveness, 
        make for fulfilled citizens in Latin American 
        countries, and help bolster stable democracies in the 
        entire region.

    Latin America represents a unique case in today's global 
environment because it is a region containing diverse countries 
that share significant untapped potential for social progress 
driven by improved public dialogue. In particular, the 
characteristics of Latin American social media use and 
engagement of connectivity resources delineated below indicate 
that this area could be primed for substantial positive change 
in a manner similar in nature, if not in process, to that 
recently observed in the Middle East.

   Latin America possesses the potential to overstep North 
        America's lead in social media use in part due to the 
        proliferation of Internet accessible mobile devices in 
        the region.
   With regard to social networking, 82% of Latin Americans 
        with Internet access use social networks, making Latin 
        Americans the second most active social networking 
        population behind North America.
   According to Debbie Frost, Director of International 
        Communications and Public Policy at Facebook, Facebook 
        has over 100 million users in Latin America, and the 
        top five countries in terms of number of users include 
        Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, and Venezuela.\4\
    \4\ Interview with Debbie Frost, Director of International 
Communications and Public Policy at Facebook, 30 August 2011.

   Currently, Brazil's Facebook user base is approaching 25 
        million users, and in 2010, Brazil's Facebook user base 
        doubled every six months. To reflect Brazil's rapid 
        growth in users, Facebook recently opened an 
        advertising sales office in Sao Paulo, Brazil.\5\ 
        Orkut, a Google social networking site that never 
        gained popularity in the United States, is currently 
        one of the most popular sites in Brazil with an 
        estimated 46 million users.\6\
    \5\ Ibid.
    \6\ Kenneth Rapoza, ``Brazil Keeps Google's Orkut Relevant, Tops 
Facebook,'' Forbes, 6 April 2011,
   With a mobile penetration rate of over 90% and low fixed 
        broadband Internet capacity, Latin America is poised to 
        benefit from cheaper mobile Internet and data 
        packages.\7\ The plot below illustrates a country by 
        country breakdown of Latin American mobile 
    \7\ ``World Development Indicators Databank,'' World Bank Data 
Catalog, The World Bank 2010, http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/
    \8\ Ibid.


    Note: The United States has 97 mobile subscriptions per 100 
    \9\ Ibid.

   The low network connectivity requirements in Latin America 
        make social media like Twitter extremely accessible in 
        areas of high mobile penetration. Users can text their 
        tweets using short message service (SMS), which vastly 
        widens the scope of users reached. Hence, sharing news 
        or organizing groups using Twitter becomes relatively 
        easy if one has access to a phone with SMS 
   As millions of Latin Americans access the Internet via 
        mobile phones, Latin America will become an even larger 
        consumer of data and a more substantial participant in 
        social networking communities. According to industry 
        experts interviewed for this report, approximately 215 
        million Latin Americans, or 36% of the regional 
        population, are able to access Internet by any 
        means.\10\ The plot below illustrates a country by 
        country breakdown of Latin American broadband 
    \10\ These figures represent approximated numbers for 2011 provided 
by industry experts.
    \11\ ``World Development Indicators Databank,'' World Bank Data 
Catalog, The World Bank 2010, http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/
world-development-indicators. No data was available for Haiti or 


    Note:  The United States has 28 broadband subscriptions per 100 
    \12\ Ibid.

   Broadband Internet access penetration amongst Latin 
        American countries could exceed 30% by 2014.
   A major component of the success of social media in Latin 
        America lies in the existence of connectivity resources 
        (i.e. SMS, smartphone), and the primary issue with 
        technological connectivity in Latin America is a dearth 
        of adequate infrastructure. The plot below illustrates 
        a country-by-country breakdown of Latin American 
        Internet bandwidth.\13\
    \13\ Ibid. No data was available for Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, 
Panama, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, or Argentina.


    Note: No bandwidth information for the United States was 
    \14\ ``World Development Indicators Databank,'' World Bank Data 
Catalog, The World Bank 2010, http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/

   Global data indicate that as access to information and 
        communications technology increases, the user base 
        generally increases as well. Yet at this time, access 
        to secure Internet servers and fixed broadband 
        connections in Latin America is lacking.\15\ The plot 
        below illustrates a country-by-country breakdown of 
        Latin American secure servers.\16\ It is thus 
        distinctly possible that even moderately improving 
        Latin American connectivity infrastructure could 
        significantly increase the regional user base.
    \15\ Ibid.
    \16\ Ibid.


    Note:  The United States has 1,446 secure servers per 1 million 
    \17\ Ibid.


    The data presented above, which was obtained from the World 
Bank for the years 2008-2009, indicates a number of interesting 
realities and trends.\18\ First, note that the mobile 
subscription per 100 persons metric is over 100 for a large 
proportion of these countries including Panama, Argentina, 
Honduras, and Uruguay, which means that there is on average 
more than one mobile subscription per person. Such data would 
seem to imply that mobile or SMS-based connectivity initiatives 
could have particularly large effects in the Latin American 
region and in these countries in particular.
    \18\ ``World Development Indicators Databank,'' World Bank Data 
Catalog, The World Bank 2010, http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/
    Interestingly, the broadband subscription numbers shown 
above are relatively low compared to the mobile subscription 
metrics, indicating that mobile initiatives may be particularly 
important in this region. The broadband data presented here 
would also imply that initiatives aimed at broadband Internet 
users should primarily be targeted at countries such as Mexico, 
Chile, and Argentina, which enjoy relatively high levels of 
broadband usage.
    Moreover, while it is clear that countries such as Costa 
Rica, Colombia, Brazil, and Trinidad enjoy particularly high 
levels of per capita bandwidth in contrast to Mexico and 
Salvador, for example, the most important feature of this graph 
is the large number of countries for which data was 
unavailable. In order to make substantial policy decisions 
about how to engage particular countries with effective 
connectivity-based programs, more data on bandwidth in 
countries such as those on this graph that lack data 
(Argentina, Chile, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, 
Panama, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela) will be critically 
    Finally, it is important to note that the absolute number 
of secure servers is a useful metric, but the real measurement 
of how good connectivity is on average is how many servers 
currently provide Internet to groups of a given size. Clearly, 
countries like Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua, which do not 
have a great deal of servers, would appear to be prime targets 
for infrastructure improvement and utilization initiatives. 
Countries like Panama, Costa Rica, Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil, 
on the other hand, appear to be doing significantly better than 
the rest of their region in this area and would thus be able to 
engage connectivity initiatives with higher resource 
    In the end, the data shows that social media and 
connectivity initiatives should be catered to the particular 
circumstances of a particular country. Mexico, for instance, 
appears to have high broadband subscription numbers but 
relatively low bandwidth. In such a case, a package of programs 
that include the utilization low-requirement online resources 
as well as the improvement of existing bandwidth levels would 
seem to be ideal. In Panama, however, the extraordinary number 
of mobile phone subscriptions would make connectivity 
initiatives based off improving mobile broadband infrastructure 
and providing SMS-based services more effective. It will be 
imperative for such data to be fully considered as the 
Department of State decides where and how to implement 
connectivity and social media programs in this region.


    Given the growing importance of social media with regard to 
strengthening the ability of governments to more effectively 
communicate with and serve their constituents as well as with 
respect to enabling citizens to express political opinions, to 
share information, and to mobilize demonstrations, it becomes 
essential that Latin American governments have a clear presence 
in these areas.
    To properly assess social media initiatives currently 
implemented in Latin American countries, staff contacted the 
embassies of Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico to gather more 
information about their initiatives. These countries were 
chosen due to the fact that they have the highest Internet 
connectivity, the likelihood of their governments to use social 
media to engage with citizens, and the defining role these 
countries play in influencing the political attitudes of the 
    After analyzing data on Internet and mobile phone 
subscriptions per 100 people, total Internet and mobile phone 
usage data, population statistics, information and 
communication technology development indices, and social media 
proliferation metrics, staff determined that Brazil, Colombia, 
and Mexico represent leading technological markets in Latin 
America. However, with the exception of Colombia, attempts by 
their governments to expand Internet connectivity remain 
    From discussions with these embassies, staff identified two 
general points:

 1. The interviewed governments understand the power of the 
        Internet and social media for communication and public 
        dialogue, and they are--to varying degrees--engaging 
        citizens through these media. Although these countries 
        have announced limited initiatives to promote computer 
        literacy, none has implemented specific financial 
        commitments to educate citizens about services provided 
        by the government through social media.
 2. Only one of the officials interviewed for this report, 
        Colombia, mentioned state policies to expand 
        connectivity in these specific countries.


    With approximately 76 million Internet users, Brazil has 
one of the highest numbers of Internet users in the region, and 
approximately 40% of all Brazilians have regular Internet 
access.\19\ Given the large quantity of Brazilian Internet 
users, staff believes that Brazil should prioritize its social 
media policy. Indeed, the Brazilian President, Ministry of 
Foreign Relations, Defense Ministry, Health Ministry, and other 
federal institutions have Twitter accounts where information 
regarding services, press releases, speeches, and public 
engagements can be found. Yet, having a social media account is 
not the same as maximizing one's online influence. Like the 
other countries in this study, Brazil needs funded computer 
literacy and social media programs, improved broadband and 
mobile Internet access, and more forums for the public to 
express opinions and provide feedback on government services 
through the Internet. Brazilian officials were unable to 
provide social media and technology budget figures when 
requested by staff.
    \19\ ``World Development Indicators Databank,'' World Bank Data 
Catalog, The World Bank 2010, http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/


    Colombia has recently experienced rapid growth in Internet 
access, reaching a penetration level of 47 percent.\20\ Indeed, 
over the last five years, access grew 354.3% in Colombia.\21\ 
Unlike the other countries consulted in this study, Colombia 
offers digital literacy programs including national and 
regional modules that explain how to use social media and 
technology. Staff believes that these programs are important 
because they educate the public on how to use these platforms, 
which amplifies the effects of the government's social media 
outreach. According to Alfonso Cuellar, Senior Advisor to the 
Colombian Ambassador in Washington, Colombia's Vive Digital 
program, designed to promote Internet use in Colombia, has a 
2011 budget of $800 million (USD) divided between operational 
costs and investment.\22\ The $532 million (USD) dedicated to 
investment aims to bolster infrastructure and to provide 
information technology literacy programs to the public, 
especially low income citizens.\23\ The government of Colombia 
has demonstrated its dedication to providing more Internet 
access to its citizens and equipping them with the skills 
necessary to participate in online forums.
    \20\ ``Latin America Advisor,'' Inter-American Dialogue, 22 
September 2011.
    \21\ Ibid.
    \22\ Interview with Alfonso Cuellar, Senior Advisor to the 
Colombian Ambassador in Washington, 28 July 2011.
    \23\ Ibid.
    This technology is also used by all three branches of 
Colombia's government and civil society. The first significant 
example of social media's growing political role in Latin 
America occurred in February 2008 when a Facebook group called 
``One Million Voices Against FARC'' organized the National 
March against FARC. Approximately ten million people marched in 
protest against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia 
(FARC) in hundreds of Colombian cities.\24\ The Facebook group 
was created by a Colombian citizen named Oscar Morales to 
express his anger toward FARC's tyranny. Morales described how 
``Facebook was our headquarters. It was the newspaper. It was 
the central command. It was the laboratory--everything. 
Facebook was all that, right up until the last day.'' \25\
    \24\ David Kirkpatrick, The Facebook Effect, (New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 2010): 1-8.
    \25\  Ibid., 5.


    Mexico boasts the position as the first country to have a 
president and full cabinet with official Twitter accounts. 
Mexican officials characterize interactive dialogue with 
politicians as limited at this time, but most officials, 
including the president, respond to questions and criticism 
from citizens on their Twitter accounts. Citing Mexico's 
National Statistics Institute (INEGI), Ricardo Alday, 
Communications Director and Spokesman for the Embassy of 
Mexico, described how 30% of Mexicans had permanent access to 
the Internet as of December 2010, and, as a result of the 
rapidly expanding Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) 
market, that the Mexican mobile industry has an annual growth 
rate of 22% with approximately 43% mobile penetration.\26\ 
Mobile growth rates illustrate the growing number of 
individuals that have the ability to access the Internet 
through a mobile device. Alday agreed that ``as the number of 
users of social media increase and as the novelty becomes the 
norm, the possibilities to influence political discourse and 
policy in the future are there.'' It is therefore likely that 
social media and technology will play an increasing role in 
this country's political conversations in the coming years.
    \26\ Interview with Ricardo Alday, Communications Director and 
Spokesman for the Embassy of Mexico, 26 July 2011.
    However, no specific, funded initiatives to educate 
citizens about the government's services through social media 
currently exist, though the government and private sector have 
been discussing the development of future programs. Mexico 
recognizes the growing importance of using social media both to 
increase government transparency and accountability as well as 
to allow citizens to communicate directly with the government 
to share ideas or criticisms.

          The Role the U.S. Plays in the Expansion of Social 
                         Media in Latin America

    The U.S. Department of State's core policy towards 
connectivity resources in Latin America underscores how the 
U.S. should work through a variety of channels, such as 
industry partnerships and non-governmental organization (NGO) 
engagement, to improve access to Internet and 
telecommunications infrastructure in the region. It is hoped 
that the advent of such increased connectivity would strengthen 
the basis of democratic institutions and civil society in Latin 
America by allowing individuals to more effectively engage in 
the formation and function of their own societies. Current U.S. 
Department of State initiatives focus mainly on explaining U.S. 
foreign policy to Latin American citizens, engaging them in 
relevant discussions, strengthening communities through 
improved communication and public dialogue, and improving 
existing social bases for democratic institutions such as 
freedom of the press and gender equity. Staff requested budget 
figures for social media in the region, but none were provided.
    Some of the challenges the U.S. Department of State's 
policy faces in Latin American countries pertain to inadequate 
levels of infrastructure and capability such as appropriate 
online resources, lack of indigenous technical skills, and 
little consideration of critical risks. These crucial areas 
could benefit from greater emphasis in current U.S. Department 
of State policy and action planning.
    The U.S. Department of State's official position on the use 
of connectivity resources and social media in Latin America is 
that its ``digital platforms [should] explain U.S. foreign 
policy, society, and values and seek to develop partnerships 
with citizens in achieving shared goals: citizen security, 
strong democratic institutions, inclusive economic prosperity, 
and clean and secure energy.'' \27\ While these goals are 
certainly wide-reaching, there are a number of specific areas 
that are being targeted by U.S. Department of State efforts.
    \27\ Questions for the Record for Roberta Jacobson, Acting 
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, submitted 
by Richard G. Lugar, Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Relations for 
hearing entitled ``The State of Democracy in the Americas'' on June 30, 


    In line with its stated policy, the U.S. Department of 
State's most visible activities in the realm of social media 
engagement explain U.S. foreign policy to citizens of foreign 
countries and hopefully engage these populations in dialogue 
about the effects and intention of these policies. According to 
Acting Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, the 
resources that have been devoted to this cause include two 
full-time social media positions at the Bureau of Western 
Hemisphere Affairs (WHA), in addition to some portion of the 72 
Foreign Service officers and 114 locally employed staff 
currently engaging local populations through social media 
worldwide. To put these numbers in perspective, it is estimated 
that the time spent on global social media engagement by 
Foreign Service officers and locally employed staff is 
equivalent to the work of 33 full-time employees.\28\
    \28\ Questions for the Record for Roberta Jacobson, Acting 
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, submitted 
by Richard G. Lugar, Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Relations for 
hearing entitled ``The State of Democracy in the Americas'' on June 30, 
    In Latin America specifically, U.S. Department of State 
programs generally include informational and interactive 
communication initiatives such as alerting Latin American 
citizens to visits by U.S. officials, making online policy news 
available in Spanish and Portuguese, conducting web-chats to 
address social issues such as violence against journalists, and 
exposing Latin American citizens to democratic social ideals. 
One particularly successful policy program appears to be the 
Mexico City Embassy's Mission Blog, which posts Spanish 
language U.S. policy news both from the Embassy itself and from 
other news outlets. Over 300,000 interested visitors access the 
page each month.


    The U.S. Department of State has focused a great deal of 
effort on utilizing existing connectivity and social media 
resources to strengthen communities and the basis of civil 
society in Latin America. These programs have for the most part 
attempted to foster dialogue on important issues, such as 
entrepreneurship, green energy solutions, women's rights, and 
    One Facebook page targeted at entrepreneurially-minded 
citizens in Latin America, for instance, has drawn several 
thousand followers from among the teenage populations of 
Argentina, Mexico, and Venezuela.\29\ It is the U.S. Department 
of State's hope that enabling conversations about Latin 
American entrepreneurship within this population could 
ultimately spark significant economic activity drawn from the 
creativity of young Latin Americans.
    \29\ Ibid. To visit this site, see http://www.facebook.com/
    Another community-building initiative came in the form of a 
program wherein a partnership with NGOs, telecommunication 
companies, and the Government of Mexico facilitated the 
development and installation of a system that allows any phone 
to be used to give anonymous tips on illicit cartel 
activity.\30\ Such capability will hopefully empower 
individuals to take responsibility for putting a stop to 
illicit activities in their home areas as well as encourage 
groups of people to collectively work towards the creation of a 
safe, secure, and productive community environment. While not a 
traditional form of social media, the idea of using common 
public communications infrastructure to facilitate communal 
action is certainly an innovative attempt to employ social 
media concepts to address a crucial issue in Mexico and other 
parts of Latin America.
    \30\ Questions for the Record for Roberta Jacobson, Acting 
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, submitted 
by Richard G. Lugar, Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Relations for 
hearing entitled ``The State of Democracy in the Americas'' on June 30, 
    These specific programs are a few examples of a number of 
U.S. Department of State programs in Latin America that utilize 
social media concepts and resources to spread democratic 
principles and strengthen civil society by providing forums for 
public discussion of important issues, education about basic 
social problems, and avenues by which individual citizens can 
work to maintain the security and transparency of the society 
in which they live.


    A natural complement to community-strengthening initiatives 
to which the U.S. Department of State has given much attention 
are programs that work to increase the ability of Latin 
American populations to use their own indigenous technical, 
organizational, and social capabilities to affect positive 
change in their communities.
    The U.S. Department of State has trained journalists in 
several countries to increase their ability to quickly 
disseminate accurate information about important events and 
issues. A great deal of effort has been expended on Cuba, the 
only country at present that actively censors U.S. policy 
content. In Cuba, the U.S. Interest Section has offered 
thousands of Internet sessions, blogging technology training, 
basic computer skills classes, weekly on-site English classes, 
and library support to the Cuban public.\31\ These programs aim 
to bolster citizens' abilities to utilize existing resources, 
and also create social resources of their own that will 
increase government transparency and strengthen civil 
institutions. While Cuba is certainly a singular case in the 
great scheme of U.S. foreign policy, staff noticed the 
heightened interest by U.S. Department of State officials in 
increasing the basic computer and literacy skills of the Cuban 
public as a means of empowering Cubans to affect positive 
change in their own society.
    \31\ Ibid.


    Though it has been clearly stated that ``at this time the 
U.S. Department of State does not allocate money for any 
infrastructure projects,'' \32\ another consideration of the 
Department's policy towards social media use in Latin America 
has focused on improving existing infrastructure that is often 
inadequate for basic communication, effective online browsing, 
or utilization of social media resources.
    \32\ Ibid.
    A wide variety of U.S. government-initiated or sanctioned 
programs have recently been enacted to encourage change in the 
status quo in several Latin American countries. These include a 
World Bank initiative to improve Nicaraguan connectivity 
infrastructure, the U.S. government's engagement in aiding 
telecommunications companies' quest for expanded licensure to 
provide undersea cables and satellite services to Cuba, and the 
U.S. Interest Section's provision of free Internet access to 
Cubans.\33\ While these programs are not always directly funded 
by the U.S. government, it is clear that the administration is 
working on the infrastructure problem in this region, 
particularly in areas where democratic institutions are not 
especially well developed.
    \33\ Questions for the Record for Roberta Jacobson, Acting 
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, submitted 
by Richard G. Lugar, Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Relations for 
hearing entitled ``The State of Democracy in the Americas'' on June 30, 
    The U.S. Department of State's efforts have resulted in ad 
hoc funding for bandwidth increases for simultaneous 
translation of certain online events and for isolated natural 
disaster mitigation. Some administration partnerships with NGOs 
working to increase broadband access in developing areas that 
are particularly difficult to access currently exist, such as a 
recent USAID effort to expand Haitian broadband access in rural 
regions, but there has been relatively little emphasis placed 
on improving the end user's ability to connect to both online 
resources and to other individuals using the combination of 
infrastructure and software to which he or she has access.\34\
    \34\ Ibid.

                       CRITICAL RISK MINIMIZATION

    A final issue that requires more effort from the U.S. 
Department of State is minimizing critical risks of increased 
connectivity. As recent events in the United Kingdom, the 
United States, and other industrialized countries have shown, 
increased connectivity and access to social media resources has 
the potential to create opportunities for negative social 
outcomes such as flash robberies and recruitment of individuals 
to civically counterproductive causes.
    The U.S. Department of State has initiated programs to 
address these issues in certain contexts, such as helping to 
institute an SMS-based system to counter FARC recruitment in 
Colombia and working to implement a secure tip line system in 
Mexico to fight the widespread perception of inadequate 
personal security.
    While these programs represent significant progress towards 
mitigating potential negative effects of increased connectivity 
in Latin America, a great deal of work is still necessary to 
ameliorate these issues, particularly in online social media 
environments. For example, collaborators of President Hugo 
Chavez in Venezuela recently hacked the Twitter accounts of 
opposition activists. Staff strongly believes that this example 
indicates how policy needs to take into consideration the 
extent repressive governments will take to silence democratic 
voices using this technology.\35\
    \35\  ``Ciberpiratas infiltran las cuentas de Twitter de los 
opositores a Hugo Chavez,'' Associated Press, 28 September, 2011,
    There are also a number of broader areas in which there is 
still a good deal of progress to be made. Specifically, 
improving the recipient base of basic computer skills training, 
deepening the technical content of skills transfer programs, 
increasing the number of critical online resources in relevant 
foreign languages, matching online resource requirements to 
existing infrastructure capabilities, and combating critical 
civic risks from online social media actors are areas that 
staff believes could represent productive future foci of U.S. 
Department of State policy and efforts in the region. Moreover, 
improving current data collection capabilities to monitor the 
present state of such initiatives and to determine the 
countries in which they would have the greatest impact will be 
crucial to ensuring outcomes that are both important and long-

           Recommendations: How the U.S. Can Further Expand 
                     Social Media in Latin America

    Upon analyzing information provided by the U.S. Department 
of State, governments of several Latin American countries, and 
industry insiders, staff strongly encourages the U.S. 
government to implement the following recommendations to 
address shortcomings in the technological connectivity and 
literacy of Latin American countries. These recommendations aim 
to enhance citizens' abilities to connect via social media and 
technology and to allow democratic governments and other 
organizations interested in the proliferation of basic freedoms 
to reach larger audiences with information and services.


    Nearly every country in the world welcomes the opportunity 
to increase the legitimacy of its technology industry. In 
particular, software engineering is often a low-cost, high-
return endeavor due to the lack of overhead costs involved and 
the massive potential market for software products. For this 
reason, U.S. efforts to cooperatively establish frameworks 
wherein U.S. entities (public or private) would contribute to 
training programs in advanced software engineering in foreign 
countries could be well-received. Senior government officials 
interviewed for this study agree that these efforts are going 
to be driven by commercial interests.
    Besides the economic benefits such programs could have, 
which would reflect favorably on the U.S., they would allow for 
the dissemination of software expertise into the general 
populace, making it more difficult for governments to censor 
online material or otherwise use connectivity resources to 
curtail the bases of democratic institutions. In the United 
States, for instance, it is difficult to effectively censor 
online content due to the existence of significant private 
software expertise, and efforts to bring such expertise into 
Latin American countries could pay similar dividends in the 
    More specifically, establishing a well-trained, 
independent, and private software engineering sector 
effectively deprives the government of the advantage of being 
able to hire and control the best software engineers. In 
addition to being in alignment with existing foreign aid goals, 
then, such technology training programs could be useful in 
ensuring the maintenance of freedom of speech in other segments 
of the world. Specific implementation avenues could include the 
encouragement of relevant cross-country university partnership 
and monetary support of formal training programs in less 
developed areas, among others. While some training programs 
have occurred, they have not had the magnitude or level of 
success necessary to impact openness without foreign assistance 
in both the intermediate and long term.


    Adequate connectivity for significant Internet use does not 
guarantee that online resources will be effectively utilized by 
the general population. Rather, for widespread Internet use to 
become a reality in previously unconnected countries, it is 
imperative that the general populace be exposed to fundamental, 
consistent, and protracted information technology literacy 
tutorials. If goals such as real-time detection of election 
fraud, social media utilization as an avenue for political 
action, and online distribution of information about government 
services are to be accomplished, a country's general population 
must be able to effectively leverage their existing 
technological resources.
    Programs aimed at bringing information technology literacy 
to underserved populations, who are often most vulnerable to 
the types of problems social media and technology use could 
hopefully resolve, would significantly promote the spread of 
just, transparent democracy in Latin America. Specific 
implementation strategies could mirror current industry best 
practices by leveraging recent advances in online computer 
service and live chat (both voice and written) methods. The 
United States has organized some information technology 
literacy programs in Cuba, but outside of its Cuba outreach, 
little has been done except blogging sessions. More programs 
are needed, and these information technology literacy outreach 
programs should be targeted at citizens, not just journalists.
    Furthermore, establishing more partnerships with 
nongovernmental organizations and municipal institutions and 
leveraging existing Fulbright Commissions and American public 
diplomacy spaces such as American Corners and American Centers 
would help expand information technology literacy outreach. 
With proper resources, linkages between the Department of 
Education and partner Ministries in the region could allow 
future generations to drive the educational process through 
direct school-to-school contact.

                      TO CREATE LANGUAGE RESOURCES

    A distinct disadvantage for Latin American Internet users 
is that only 12% of the world's online resources are in Spanish 
or Portuguese.\36\ It is therefore likely that important online 
resources traditionally composed in English or Chinese (which 
together make up a full 50% of the world's web sites) are not 
readily available to many Latin American Internet users.
    \36\ ``Internet World Users by Language,'' Internet World Stats, 
March 2011,
    To remedy this shortfall, the Department of State should 
support local efforts to develop translating technology 
resources such as information technology literacy websites, 
technical tutorials, and the like into languages such as 
Spanish and Portuguese so that inhabitants of Latin American 
countries might have fuller access to the critical political, 
technical, and social capabilities of the modern Internet 
developed in their own countries. The creation of this 
auxiliary online content would continuously and permanently 
increase the efficacy of any connectivity that the region 
currently has or will gain in the future. Additionally, social 
media could be used to disseminate translated resources.


    The widespread increase in connectivity that Latin America 
has experienced in recent years is in some ways deceiving. 
While Internet coverage and penetration has certainly 
increased, the level of online services that individuals in 
these countries experience is not on par with those found in 
countries with more developed infrastructure. Thus, it is 
unlikely that these populations would be able to leverage 
Internet connectivity as effectively as possible given that 
their bandwidth levels may not be consistently sufficient to 
support some of the most useful online resources. Even on well-
equipped mobile devices in the United States, certain websites 
will take extremely long periods of time to fully load and 
sometimes will not be compatible with a mobile format.
    Given that it is significantly easier to bring new 
connectivity to an area with mobile rather than hardwired 
connections, it is imperative that relevant online content be 
created that could be effectively utilized on slow connections. 
As opposed to creating content with large graphics files, for 
instance, sites containing information should be structured to 
minimize the information that users must download. In the 
context of social media, this would imply creating a social 
media infrastructure that emphasizes basic functionality at the 
expense of aesthetically pleasing, but ultimately superfluous, 
graphic material.
    Encouragement should be given to private sector companies 
as well as relevant public sector entities to foster the 
maintenance of low bandwidth social media resources so that 
less connected populations can begin to realize the advantages 
of modern connectivity and the associated potential for both 
social and political action that such connectivity brings. As a 
starting point, since the small-scale SMS programs started by 
the Administration have been relatively successful, such 
projects could perhaps be extended to the online domain. Thus, 
while the U.S. Department of State does not necessarily fund 
new infrastructure at present, the initiatives described here 
could certainly augment the success of its existing programs in 
a similar fashion.
    While low-requirement infrastructure represents a short-
term solution to increasing technological connectivity, 
improving and providing more bandwidth should be a long-term 
goal in the region. Staff notes that traditionally, the people 
who have built media infrastructure for the United States 
government have been the engineers at International 
Broadcasting Bureau (IBB). Staff concludes that the IBB would 
be the best fit for contracting digital infrastructure 

                         ASSESS CRITICAL RISKS

    Whenever new technology is introduced into a given area, 
the positive consequences of the action must ultimately be 
weighed against the possibility of unintended negative 
    On the one hand, although increased connectivity does have 
a number of positive consequences, including spurring the 
utilization of social media for increased political 
transparency and improving the dissemination of useful 
information, such connectivity can also be misused in ways that 
distinctly threaten political freedoms and even lives. As the 
recent situation in Egypt has shown, well-organized (often 
radical) groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood tend to benefit 
most from sudden liberalization. In Egypt, the organizational 
disparity was so great that elections are believed to have been 
delayed partially due to fears that the well-organized Muslim 
Brotherhood would win an inordinately large number of 
governmental seats.
    On the other hand, staff raised the issue of privacy with 
industry insiders as a potential problem in the future. These 
insiders agreed that privacy concerns need to be addressed, but 
at the same time, they worried that too much government 
interference and regulation could limit the proliferation of 
information and access to it.
    Mitigating factors such as confidence in law enforcement 
authority, the organizational level of violent criminals, and 
the relative utilization capabilities of different political 
entities should therefore be deeply considered when deciding 
whether or not to implement the types of programs described 
here. Since almost no data have been collected on critical 
risks at this time, improved data collection and analysis could 
aid with these assessments in the future.


    Social media tools are by no means a panacea for democracy 
promotion. Since social media are most effective when the 
political environment of a country is ripe for change, 
limitations exist with respect to a population's ability to use 
social media to effect change. Social media facilitate 
communications and the dissemination of information, but these 
tools cannot determine the course of events alone. Instead, 
technology accelerates underlying grassroots movements that 
would likely occur regardless of the influence of technology.
    Despite the palpable role that social media and technology 
can play, staff found that industry insiders are less keen to 
associate themselves with the political uses of these tools. 
For example:

 1. The largest social media companies still view themselves as 
        startups. This viewpoint proves problematic because 
        these social media companies do, in fact, have an 
        international reach similar to that of large 
        multinational companies. For example, while Facebook 
        has expanded its global presence, many social media 
        companies have yet to adopt an aggressive international 
        presence. Generally speaking, while the social media 
        industry has a large presence in terms of users, they 
        do not have individuals to manage their relationships 
        with foreign governments and civil society.
 2. The perspective of ``neutrality to politics'' by industry 
        insiders is complicated further by the nuanced 
        relationship that exists between the technology 
        industry and the U.S. government. On the one hand, the 
        U.S. Department of State recognizes the potential and 
        values the use of social media and technology because 
        these tools can help advance U.S. foreign policy 
        interests. On the other hand, these social media 
        companies are businesses that do not want to be viewed 
        as another arm of the U.S. government because they want 
        to attract international business, and in some 
        countries close relations with the United States is 
        cause for distrust and suspicion.
 3. This relationship is complicated further by the dominant 
        attitude regarding government that generally exists 
        within the technology industry. One industry insider 
        that was interviewed for this report stated, ``We view 
        government as a necessary evil, the way that people 
        look at traffic cops. If you get stopped for speeding, 
        you pay your ticket.''

    These observations give insight into the industry's 
perspective of itself and also help explain their aversion to 
government relations. As interactions with governments 
increase, they will understand the need to have specialized 
staff to cultivate these relationships. With strong executive 
branch systems of government in Latin America and throughout 
much of the world, relationships with these governments cannot 
be avoided. In fact, good relations with these governments 
could prove useful to advance business interests.
    Just as the tension between industry and governments will 
probably not subside in the future, this technology is not 
going to go away. Staff strongly believes that the prospect of 
full access to this technology everywhere outweighs any 
disadvantages in a number of current foreign policy situations. 
Increasing popular use of technological resources presents a 
variety of important opportunities for making governments more 
responsive to the needs of the people they serve, for allowing 
citizens to connect and share opinions freely, and for 
promoting U.S. commerce.
    In order to better serve their citizens, it is crucial that 
Latin American governments promote this technological domain. 
Likewise, if the industry is going to reach its full potential 
regarding connecting individuals globally, it is important that 
industry be present physically with offices in the region both 
to make the necessary relationships and to better understand 
the region it serves and its idiosyncrasies. The industry 
cannot afford to exist solely online.
    The United States has consistently led the world in both 
technological innovation and pioneering new communications 
media. American technological entrepreneurs, moreover, have and 
should continue to exchange ideas and share expertise with 
interested Latin Americans to discuss ways to use social media 
to accomplish specific goals. Thus, in the age of digital 
activism, the United States should continue to generate and 
promote innovative new technology and ideas so that people all 
over the world can connect with information, strengthen 
democracy, increase commerce, demand their freedoms, and use 
social networking to impact their world in the 21st century.

                               Appendix I



    Paul Foldi, Senior Professional Staff for Public Diplomacy, 
Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate
    Alexandra Utsey, Legislative Assistant, Committee on 
Foreign Relations, United States Senate
    Jared Dunnmon, Intern, Committee on Foreign Relations, 
United States Senate


    Garrett Johnson, Founder, InfoRate
    Kezia McKeague, Director of Government Relations, Council 
of the Americas

             Government Officials Consulted for This Study

United States
    Roberta Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for 
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Department of State, 
answers to Questions for the Record submitted by Richard G. 
Lugar, Ranking Member, Committee on Foreign Relations for 
hearing entitled ``The State of Democracy in the Americas'' on 
June 30, 2011
    Alec Ross, Senior Advisor for Innovation to Secretary of 
State Hillary Clinton, Department of State
    Suzanne Hall, Senior Innovation Advisor in the Bureau of 
Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State
    Ricardo Alday, Communications Director and Spokesman for 
the Embassy of Mexico
    Gisela Padovan, Senior Advisor to the Brazilian Ambassador 
in Washington
    Alfonso Cuellar, Senior Advisor to the Colombian Ambassador 
in Washington
    Pablo Matamoros, President Pinera's senior aide for web 

               Industry Insiders Consulted For This Study

    Alexander Macgillivray, General Counsel, Twitter
    Debbie Frost, Director of International Communications and 
Public Policy, Facebook
    Alberto Arebalos, Director of Communications and Public 
Affairs for Google Latin America