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Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds

Government as a Peacekeeper
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The Digital Diplomacy: Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project was lead by Rita J. King and Joshua S. Fouts who are both Senior Fellows at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. The project was funded by a grant from the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

The idea for Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds project was hatched with a very specific idea in mind: How could people learn about other cultures in an authentic, experiential space — specifically, how could we learn about cultures that self-identified as Muslim? In turn, how could this information supplement or augment the physical world work of foreign policy and especially public diplomacy practitioners? Fouts and King chose the virtual world of Second Life as the platform for their research for many reasons, among them that it is the best international platform — more than 70% of its users are from outside the United States. The goal was to to see what they could learn about Islam — not by inviting particular people with particular perspectives into Second Life, but rather to follow the trail of what was already happening culturally in the space that might yield new insight about Islam.

The findings included a trilogy of actionable items available in digital format. By releasing three types of reports — policy recommendations, documentary video and graphic book — Fouts and King hoped to make what is still a very new medium as accessible as possible.
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Rita King

IBM Analytics Virtual Center

Rita J. King is CEO and Creative Director of Dancing Ink Productions, a strategic creative content development and research company dedicated to the emergence of a new global culture and economy in the Imagination Age — defined by creative use of digital technology to inhabit ideas, facilitate new dialogue and collaborate on solutions to challenging issues. Rita works globally across platforms to produce creative mixed media, mixed-reality events, research projects, broadcasts and related products.

Rita is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, where she and Joshua S. Fouts recently completed the “Understanding Islam through Virtual Worlds” project that spanned four continents as well as the digital culture. She is a storyteller and a documentarian, the author of the seminal, widely taught Village Voice cover story, “Terms of Service: Sweaty Scenes from the Life of an AOL Censor.” For seven years while working as an award-winning investigative reporter, Rita’s primary focus was reporting on corporate culture. This work culminated in her report, “Big, Easy Money: Disaster Profiteering on the American Gulf Coast,” followed by a civil rights quest with the president of the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development that included an exploration of critical places across the American Deep South. She recently contributed a chapter in the 2009 edited volume, “Race, Place, and Environmental Justice After Hurricane Katrina.”

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