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U.N. Harnesses Social Media to Reach Outside World

Disseminating messages to local populations, especially in developing countries, is key in mobilising support for the work of the United Nations. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Disseminating messages to local populations, especially in developing countries, is key in mobilising support for the work of the United Nations. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

UNITED NATIONS, May 3 2013 (IPS) - As the world continues to turn digital, so does the United Nations – slowly but steadily.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the world body is increasingly drawing on social media tools, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Flickr, as well as other innovative communications technologies, to broaden its reach to the world at large.

In a report to the U.N. Committee on Information, which concluded its current sessions Friday, Ban said that efforts to harness the power of social media “have yielded impressive results in terms of reaching new audiences around the world.”

The U.N. Visitor’s website, launched in 2010, received 343,679 page views while its Facebook page has increased to over 5,800 fans and its fan base on Google Plus reached over 700,000.

And as the United Nations goes “paper smart” – drastically reducing printed reports and documents in favour of electronic versions – it is also increasing the volume of digitised documents.

Currently, the U.N. archives has over 3.7 million documents, most of them waiting to go digital.

The U.N.’s primary agenda focuses on three key issues: development, human rights and peace and security, intertwined with gender empowerment, counter-terrorism and sustainable development, among others.

Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, under-secretary-general for communications and public information, says that the U.N. libraries in New York and Geneva have processed around 340,000 documents, comprising 3.5 million pages.

“The timeline for completing the task, using current resources and methods, would be approximately 20 years,” he said.

At the same time, the United Nations has an additional 13 million official documents, mostly background reports and working papers, which are also up for digitisation.

“That might take another 60 years,” he told the Committee last week.

Still, traditional media is still the primary means of communication, especially among developing countries where internet coverage remains sparse.

Asked whether the United Nations was on the right track in harnessing social media as against traditional media, the newly-elected chair of the Committee on Information, Ambassador Lyutha Sultan Al-Mughairy of Oman, told IPS, “I believe it is, but I do not want to suggest social media is ‘against’ traditional media.”

“We need all forms of media to communicate, in the context of who our audience is and what form of communication each audience is comfortable with.”

At the session just concluded, she said, the Committee on Information has proposed that the 193-member General Assembly request the secretary-general to report to it at its next session “on the structure of the Organisation’s presence in social networks, and its strategy and guidelines for their use.

“We believe this information will be important in assessing the track we are on, and how best, as you say, to harness the power of social media”.

She said the Department of Information must tackle a number of challenges and cater to new audiences “in a worsening budgetary climate”, doing more with fast-dwindling resources.

Currently, the world body has about 63 U.N. Information Centres (UNICs) reaching out to the public at large.

Asked about the importance of UNICs in the context of the U.N.’s current austerity drive to eliminate some, or most, of these centres, Ambassador Al-Mughairy told IPS the Committee has consistently emphasised the importance of the network of UNICs in enhancing the public image of the United Nations.

And more so, in disseminating messages to local populations, especially in developing countries, bearing in mind that information in local languages has the strongest impact on local populations, and in mobilising support for the work of the United Nations at the local level.

She said her Committee has also stressed the importance of rationalising the network of UNICs, and, in this regard, requested the secretary-general to continue to make proposals, including through the redeployment of resources where necessary.

The Committee has been assured by the Department that communications and public information needs would not suffer as a result of any realignment of UNICs or their functions.

She said the Committee has also welcomed the support of some member states, including developing countries, in offering, among other things, rent-free premises for UNICs, bearing in mind that such support should not be a substitute for the full allocation of financial resources for the information centres in the context of the programme budget of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general’s report also says that by the end of 2012, more than 850 institutions of higher learning and research centres worldwide, have joined Academic Impact, described as a global university initiative launched in 2010 to align such institutions with the United Nations.

 
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