Foreign Policy

Moira Whelan advises U.S. State Department to back off social media

by Lars Anderson  Moira Whelan

This is an excerpt from an article by Moira Whelan, BlueDot Strategies founding partner and an expert in technology and policy, featured on

The use of social media by foreign agents to destabilize the 2016 U.S. presidential election has received increasing attention over the past few months. As we learn the extent of Russia’s manipulation on all social media platforms, it is time for the Donald Trump administration to make some tough choices about public diplomacy, and the use of Facebook in particular.

One of the most eye-opening moments of my time as the deputy assistant secretary for digital strategy at the U.S. State Department occurred on a trip to the country of Georgia, aimed at helping the government build its digital capacity to better serve its population. Our message was the same advice we’d given to countless governments: Focus on Facebook. It was the dominant player. Elites tended to use Twitter. Google ads were worth it if you had the money. But for governments wanting to reach real people on a global scale, Facebook was the scalable, smart solution. The government of Georgia was doing everything right: great content produced by a small team. But what we learned was that their efforts online were being systematically thwarted by the Russian aggression they saw on their borders and in their economy. Incendiary and often fake content being posted by RT, Sputnik, and pro-Russia nongovernmental organizations in the country would often outshine responsible content. The lack of engagement on their posts meant the people of Georgia simply weren’t seeing what their government was telling them because it wasn’t showing up in their feed. They were seeing only the criticism coming from outside groups — and that’s what they believed. Little did I know I’d soon see the same tactics in my own country. …

Read the article in its entirety at Foreign