Is Facebook’s ‘Foreign Service’ a PR Coup?
Facebook recently announced that it will hire international “policy directors” who will be stationed in Central Europe, the Middle East and beyond to mingle with politicians and lawmakers, manage privacy concerns and, as one spokesperson told the San Jose Mercury News, “have a presence [and] limit the scope for misunderstandings.”
Is Facebook creating a unique type of foreign service? And will it attract up-and-coming foreign policy careerists? After all, you’re not in the foreign service simply because your job forces you to cross international borders…or are you?
Josh Marcuse, founder and president of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, says the Facebook positions are only loosely related to foreign service. In reality, using the language of foreign policy to talk about the positions is more of a PR coup than a pioneering model.
The job descriptions read like a “government relations” or lobbying position, he says. But it is to Facebook’s advantage to call the new hires “‘diplomats’ because it highlights the political implications of the company,” according to Marcuse.
Now it’s important to note: Google did the same song-and-dance in 2006. Marcuse points out that Facebook and Google aren’t little web start-ups anymore, but massive multinational corporations. “MNCs having foreign policies is not a new idea,” he says. “Facebook isn’t the only big company to realize it needs an aggressive international presence.”
Indeed, the move is a recognition that concerns about privacy and communications differ widely across cultures. Recent controversies involving anti-Israeli Facebook groups, the Egyptian uprising, and Facebook’s censorship in China illuminate the importance of having dedicated employees in different countries – especially when 70 percent of Facebook’s 600 million users live outside the U.S.
As for how Facebook’s announcement fits into the evolving field of foreign service, Marcuse says that it helps bridge the generational divide in terms of getting the higher-ups at places like the State Department to recognize the importance of social media.
“It’s an uphill battle, where a lot of the older officials don’t understand Facebook at all,” says Marcuse, who is 29. “But things like Wikileaks have made people recognize that technology has a huge impact on diplomacy.”
Marcuse’s foreign service peers, meanwhile, are likely to be drawn to positions at an unconventional private-sector company like Facebook. “If you’re a young person interested in a field that is often known for being bureaucratic and low-paying, you’re going to be intrigued by the opportunity to be involved in something that’s new and open and has the potential for generous compensation,” he says.
Adam Conner-Simons is a communications writer and journalist whose work has been published in The Boston Globe, The Huffington Post, Paste Magazine and other publications.
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