When BayNewser heard that someone from the State Department had emailed Twitter to ask them to delay maintenance to allow Iranians to continue tweeting, we pictured some fusty old guy at Foggy Bottom in a rumpled Brooks Brothers suit and wayward spectacles.
Imagine our surprise, then, when we learned that, instead, it was a 27-year-old whiz kid whose job is to advise the State Department on how to use social media to promote U.S. interests the Middle East.
And imagine our further surprise when we learned this young gentleman wasn’t one of Barack Obama‘s social media geniuses, but instead was a Condi Rice pick hired specifically to advise the State Department on young people in the Middle East and how to “counter-radicalize” them.
According to the New York Times, it was Jared Cohen, a member of the Policy Planning Staff, who contacted Twitter on Monday, inquiring about their plan to perform maintenance in what would be the middle of the day, Iran time. Following that contact, Twitter decided to postpone their maintenance so that it would take place in the middle of the night Iran-time, even though that meant it would be the middle of the day U.S. time.
The Times noted that the move marked “the recognition by the United States government that an Internet blogging service that did not exist four years ago has the potential to change history in an ancient Islamic country.”
So we wondered, who was this young guy with this remarkable insight?
Cohen was only 24 when he was hired into the Policy Planning Staff back in 2006. He’d received an undergraduate degree from Stanford and a master’s degree from Oxford, where he’d been on a Rhodes Scholarship. Oh, and he’d also talked his way into a visa for Iran (according to a December 2007 New Yorker profile), where he met young people his own age who threw underground house parties and made alcohol in bathtubs.
“Iranian young people are one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East,” Cohen told the New Yorker. “They just don’t know who to gravitate around, so young people gravitate around each other.”
The New York Times account includes this…
The episode demonstrates the extent to which the administration views social networking as a new arrow in its diplomatic quiver. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton talks regularly about the power of e-diplomacy, particularly in places where the mass media are repressed.
…without noting that Condi Rice hired Cohen.