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Mapping Digital Diasporas @ BBC World Service: Users and Uses of the Persian and Arabic Websites

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This article presents research on two key BBC World Service websites, BBC Persian Online and BBC Arabic Online. It draws on in-house BBC data, supplemented by our own semi-structured interviews with online editors and other key World Service staff. It examines where users of the two sites are located, their demographic characteristics and their views on and uses of the sites. The data is analyzed in the context of debates about the politics of diasporic media and communication networks and changing collective identities, the UK government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's (FCO) strategy of 'digital diplomacy' and the World Service's stated public purpose of fostering a 'global conversation.' Our research has shown how the majority of users of both BBC Arabic and Persian Online services reside outside the geographical areas that the BBC World Service targets and may be defined as diasporic. And these two websites are not exceptional. Diasporic groups make increasing use of the BBC's online foreign language news sites but these transnational communication networks are an unintended consequence of the BBC's activities. We highlight how the internet is changing configurations of audiences and users at the BBC World Service as geographically dispersed language groups can log on to the news services from anywhere in the world. We argue that the BBC World Service can no longer be seen as an international broadcaster pursuing the BBC's motto 'nation shall speak peace unto nation.' Rather, as one of the world's largest news providers, it is implicated in the formation of new kinds of transnational communities and communications which has as yet unforeseen consequences for national identifications and for strategies of public diplomacy.

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