Public Diplomacy on a Digital Planet: The View from Kyiv
This year’s Edward R. Murrow Award Ceremony was an emotional homecoming for Fletcher alumnus Daniel Langenkamp F02. Presented annually on The Fletcher School’s campus by the U.S. Department of State, the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public Diplomacy recognizes the commitment of one State Department employee to public diplomacy. Langenkamp was conferred the award during a ceremony on April 5 for his “exceptional performance in the United States’ public diplomacy and strategic communications efforts before and during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” The ceremony, co-sponsored by The Murrow Center for a Digital World and The Institute for Business in the Global Context (IBGC), featured remarks from Langenkamp, Dean Rachel Kyte, Elizabeth M. Allen, senior official for public diplomacy and public affairs at the U.S. Department of State, and a panel discussion with faculty.
“The work of public diplomacy is predicated on the idea that people are going to shape the future, and relationships between people, not just relationships between governments, are what’s ultimately going to be sustaining,” said Allen during her address. “We work to build trust and credibility across the world to help achieve foreign policy goals.”
“It is the work of everyone to be building relationships and to be making sure that truthful information has an opportunity to reach audiences, whether it be through media, social media, or relationship building,” she added.
Langenkamp, who earned his MALD degree from Fletcher in 2002, has served the Department of State for two decades and at six international posts. At the time of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he was spokesperson and press attaché for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, working for the next several months at the Poland-Ukraine border with a small team of diplomats who did not evacuate to the U.S.
As Russia mounted a disinformation campaign to support the invasion, Langenkamp recognized that nothing was out of bounds: media campaigns were orchestrated against both the U.S. government as well as officials in Kyiv. “We realized we needed to get aggressive in our own media strategy and our own outreach to be able to push back on this,” he said.
Langenkamp coordinated with the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Kristina Kvien in order to speak directly to the media. Alongside Kvien, a political counselor, and a small team of security, Langenkamp was one of the few diplomats allowed to return to Kyiv after months of working remotely from Poland. To reach the public around the world, he booked Kvien on a rapid-fire media tour—ABC, CBS, NBC, BBC, CNN, Fox, PBS, and Al Jazeera.
Public diplomacy was pivotal to raising awareness around Russia’s false flag operations. By warning the world that Russia was going to sow disinformation, Langenkamp said, “We inoculated the world, and it worked.”
Discussion also examined the role of social media in public diplomacy initiatives.
“There is so much conversation rightfully about how the massive amounts of content are overwhelming our content, or how Russia and China are manipulating the internet and social media,” said Allen. “I would argue that for us it’s not a question of if we can keep up with that. I think it’s more, what gives us a strategic advantage. And I would argue that what gives us the U.S. government a strategic advantage in social media is our credibility. We are known to be a credible source of information.”
Langenkamp added that social media is most effective when officials recognize the potential to have a conversation with “an entire society.” Both he and Allen noted that the U.S. was an important source of information in country, both for the global community and people in Ukraine.
The ceremony concluded with a panel discussion between Langenkamp, Allen, and Dean of Global Business Bhaskar Chakravorti, moderated by Professor Tara Sonenshine. Chakravorti, who co-led the Defeating Disinformation project through the IBGC alongside Professor Joel Trachtman at the Center for International Law & Governance, spoke to issues of disinformation and artificial intelligence in public policy. The panel examined President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s background as it prepared him for work in public diplomacy, the role of traditional and social media, and effective tactics for dispelling information.
“This flood of disinformation that we’re seeing, whether it’s coming from AI, bot farms, or troll farms, is a reason why it’s so important for us as diplomats to be on the offensive,” said Langenkamp. “It’s been a shift for the State Department to learn to play that role, to learn to be public diplomacy officers, because we cannot be reactive when all of this is being thrown at us. We need to be able to set the agenda “
Receiving the Murrow Award, Langenkamp expressed his gratitude to The Fletcher School as well.
“Fletcher gave me the breadth to transition to this career that I have now,” he said. “It plays such an important part in my life, and it’s such an honor to be back and receive this award here.”
Read more about Fletcher’s MALD degree program.