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Hillary Clinton sees diplomatic promise in social media

Former US secretary of state tells a Twitter Q&A that social media has the power to help resolve conflict between nations.

Hillary Clinton during a Q&A at Twitter headquarters on Monday Twitter/Screenshot by Steven Musil

Hillary Clinton sees great opportunity for use of social media in diplomacy, but said she also sees it as being destructive when used in the wrong way.

The former US secretary of state said during a question-and-answer session at Twitter offices in San Francisco on Monday that social media could be used as a conduit for communications between conflicting nations and organizations, possibly even leading to resolution of differences. During the Q&A, which was live-streamed over YouTube (see below), Clinton pointed out that she was a big proponent in the Obama administration of embracing more Internet-centric diplomacy using social-media tools.

"It is really important not just for individuals but organizations and even nations to have a social media presence," Clinton said in response to a Twitter employee's question. "However, if it is used primarily to score points, to engage in the kind of back and forth that is marked by insults and propaganda and sometimes misinformation, it's not fulfilling its highest and best use of trying to connect people and overcome differences and try to resolve problems."

Conceding that perhaps her hopes were "Pollyanish," Clinton said she would like to see social media evolve into a tool for productive conversation between conflicting nations.

"I would hope that we would see a maturing of the use of social media, not just to score points...but to try to create space for real conversation where people actually listen to each other and where maybe there can be more outreach through social media in trying to create reconciliation," she said, referring to the current deadly conflict between Israel and the Islamist militant organization Hamas. "I think we are sorely in need of that around the world right now. We have a lot of people communicating, but they aren't listening. And they aren't looking for common ground they might possibly occupy together."

Despite social media's more common use today as an instrument of propaganda, Clinton said she was hopeful that future social media platforms could be designed with the goal of conflict resolution in mind.

"It is a fact of social media right now that too many use it as a weapon instead of an opportunity, and maybe one of the ways we can think together about the next phase in the development of social media is as a tool of outreach, a tool of reconciliation, a tool of negotiation, and maybe even resolution," she said.

Clinton's visit to Twitter's offices came roughly a year after she opened a Twitter account, a move that led to speculation that she was planning on running for president in 2016, especially noting the "TBD" bit in her bio.