Ashton Kutcher Teams Up with Social Networking Execs for Tech Diplomacy

By Sadie Bass

Feb 18, 2010 2:38pm

ABC's Alexander Marquardt reports from Moscow: “Off to Moscow. If there are any key russian phrases that i should know feel free educate me,” the world’s most popular ‘twitterer,’ Ashton Kutcher, blasted that out to his 4.5 million followers before he arrived in Russia on Wednesday. For a movie premiere? Not quite. Kutcher joined a White House and State Department-led delegation for a week-long trip to discuss social media’s use in civil society and encourage the growth of Russia’s tech sector. Washington bureaucrats and tech geeks might not the crowd he normally runs with, but the actor/producer/activist is by no means the only boldface name on the trip, at least to techies:  Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, John Donahoe, CEO of eBay, Annesh Chopra, the White House’s Chief Technology Officer are among the 13-person delegation. “Technology’s really the platform where the borders and languages and governments have all come down.” Kutcher told ABC News. “When you’re online you don’t care that somebody’s from here or there or whatever it is if you share interests and desires you connect with people.” The trip’s stated purpose is to “broaden ties between the United States and Russia, and how these technologies can be used to develop knowledge-based societies…”  But not advertised as much is Russia’s desire to learn from the US’s success in the tech sector. “Russia is building their own silicon valley. And they want help. If we rebuilt it today what would we do differently?” Kutcher tweeted Thursday afternoon. Russia’s web-savvy President Dmitry Medvedev has led the charge in demanding that his country diversify from an oil-based economy and encourage innovation.  The powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is leading a committee on modernization. In a country where many of Russia’s most talented computer programmers become hackers, American experts see fertile ground. “It’s huge,” says Twitter’s Dorsey. “The potential to give back to that creativity and really start something new and make a worldwide phenomenon is definitely here.” The internet is the one true bastion of freedom in Russia where most of the media is strictly controlled.  By encouraging social media and web innovation, the powers that be run the risk of losing some of their grip.
“The obstacles [to innovation] are really just more communication,” argues Dorsey, whose site played a crucial role in supporting the opposition in last summer’s election in Iran. “When you can see more of what’s happening you can really see more of the opposition is arguing about and take those arguments head on and have a conversation about them.  I think the biggest risk is the conversation is not happening right now, it’s not happening enough. And the more we can enable that conversation, that discourse, the faster we’ll move.”

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