Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Because you are dying to know...

Okay, as promised here is what they said about blogging.

First, the most recent guidance is still from 2008:

As bloggers, we are expressly prohibited from being posting on publicly accessible websites:

• Classified, SBU, or other information with restricted distribution requirements
• Floor plans/blueprints with associated information
• Home addresses, home/cell telephone numbers of individuals
• Personal or legal matters of another employee
• Technical information that may put Department resources at risk
• Medical records and/or financial disclosures of another employee
• Information dealing with investigative actions

We are also generally prohibited from being posting (unless the information is obtained through Public Affairs channels):

• Biographies of U.S. government employees except for DCM rank or equivalent and above, or as approved for public diplomacy or public affairs purposes
• Job titles and/or descriptions of U.S. government personnel, except as stated in the Key Officers of the Foreign Service Posts publication or when required by law or regulation
• Information identifying employees of other agencies
• Travel itineraries of individuals or groups prior to the event, unless previously released to the media or otherwise authorized as a part of a public diplomacy or public affairs function
• Pictures of U.S. government facilities other than the official photo of an embassy or chancery building

We did have a DS briefing, and while I understand that they are still telling A-100 folks not to blog or facebook ever never never or the USG might crumble, what they said to us seemed to me to suggest that DS is moving more towards understanding that this is the means of outreach these days, and perhaps in their minds is becoming a "neccessary evil." On one DS video they showed us, a DS agent with OPSEC (operational security) said that he himself blogs. That he loves blogs and bloggers, but hates "stupid bloggers."

Our presenter said that we simply need to be cautious from a personal perspective, recognizing that the Department of State is a target, and that we are a target by our association with State.

Which is a far cry from "don't blog."

What the video suggested is that people should be taught how to blog. Blogging can be a really useful communications tool, and I doubt any of us in the FS coomunity want to do harm to State or the USG. We are serving the country for goodness sake. So I agree, helping us understand HOW to blog would be a far better route than telling us not to (because as my blogroll illustrates, we are going to blog. And the blogs reach people). For example, the most useful guidance I ever got on blogging was from a DS agent who approached me as a friend and told me how what I was blogging on, which was not classified, could be used by the bad guys. I took from that lesson not that I shouldn't blog but that I should keep in mind how what I write can be used.

That was as indepth as they went...they didn't talk about specific types of blogs (though I'd suspect spouses have more liberty than employees). But like I said, it really seems to be a shift from don't blog to how/what to blog.

14 comments:

A Daring Adventure said...

Hmmmm... well, I'm reasonably certain that I'm good on the first set, but on the second set I may not be so great.

I take what other people write about themselves (biographical information) and I put it together or talk about it.

Does that mean that I am doing something generally frowned upon?

Oh, and can I have that Dude's blog address? I'd *love* to read his blog! :) (kidding!) (but not really!) (but I'll act like I'm kidding!)

Digger said...

I think we have always been allowed to use anything that is in a public forum...so stuff you pull that others wrote about themselves is probably fair game.

I don't know what his blog address is. I'll see if I can find it.

Anonymous said...

I think that strikes a nice balance. After all, one of the reasons all y'all got hired was because they believed you had good judgment.

I think it is fair to say that if you shouldn't stand on the busiest street corner in any country in the world and yell something, that is also something that shouldn't be blogged. While blogs can be more open than letters or e-mails, both of those can be copied and forwarded - and they don't seem to prevent that.

In short, good on them for issuing guidelines rather than a complete ban.

Alex said...

I'm in A-100 now and have actually been surprised by how little has been said about blogging/Facebooking. We did have our long DS session, and the advice was essentially to "use good judgment." That's all we've heard so far.

Digger said...

Alex, I am delighted to hear that!

Stephanie said...

My husband's in DS and when I decided I wanted to blog about our adventures we talked about it first. I want my blog to be more about living overseas than why we're living overseas, so we had very little to be concerned about. But I started being more careful when we moved to a small post, in a small city, and all of a sudden my blogging gave me local celebrity status among the expat community. It made me realize that people besides my family are interested in reading this stuff. And I don't necessarily want to run in to all those people in the real world. So I'm pretty cautious about what I write for public consumption.

Stephanie said...

Daring Adventure, I think that since you're taking what others have already made public, and you're asking their permission and letting them know you did it, you're fine! :)

Connie said...

I try to keep in mind that I am not just representing myself when I blog, and that I am a guest of a foreign nation. It keeps me very tactful and careful. Not saying I won't complain here and there, but I try to keep it positive and helpful, not just useless whine-fests.

Ryan Locke said...

I just follow my one simple rule of blogging: Don't be an idiot. If I wouldn't talk about it/show it to someone sitting next to me, I generally don't put it on the blog.

DS people are well-meaning when they caution us to never ever put anything on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc--in my dying with dignity class at FSI, the DS guy told us that Facebook status are like putting targets on our backs--but to a hammer, everything's a nail.

Jen said...

Ditto on the blog address, but I will also act like I am kidding.

Oh, and now our secret is out, gasp, we are DS, too! Given that 99% of what I write about is stuff related to Little Guy and the Sissas...you know, stuff the grandparents dig, nothing that heavy, I guess I just don't worry that much.

I also don't touch on the job too often because it isn't my job...maybe how it affects me at times, but that's about it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a long time lurker and first time commenter. I'm relatively new to the FS and headed for my first post. I'd like to blog to share my experiences with friends, family, and people interested in the FS, but haven't started a blog yet, since I worry about what I should or should not write.

I'm familiar with the official lines on what we can and can't blog about, but am concerned about giving away too much info to people who would use it for bad purposes. I'd be really interested in hearing a bit more about what the DS agent said about how things can be used by bad guys. Could you maybe give some sort of examples of stuff that might seem innocuous but that we should avoid when blogging? The last thing that I want to do is to accidentally put anyone or anything in danger.

Digger said...

I'll give you my own example. I used to blog, after the fact, about how I had just worked the most recent S visit and that I was once again the site officer at the Palestinian Authority Presidential compound.

A friend who was also an ARSO pointed out that by saying that I was always the site officer for S trips to the PA, the bad guys could watch MY activity to know when S was visiting.

It is that kind of thing you need to watch out for. You can talk about your non-classified activities so long as they don't telegraph more sensitive information.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! That's a helpful example. :)

Connie said...

I lie about dates, not always, but often... even after the fact. I don't care if it was in the local paper or not, the facts are often confused by me on purpose. I don't show the front/street view of any building. I have photos of my home so grandparents, family, and those who might be posted in future, can have an idea of the local homes, but not from the street, and no comment that can ID where we are. Same with other things, like the Embassy, schools, etc. Even if I'm pretty sure that everybody who lives nearby knows where things are, I won't write it. My philosophy is to never talk about my job because the business is not mine to promote or detract from. I'd do the same with any job - except my SAHM work, but I do own that! I stick to to purely personal topics (cats, kids, interesting things about the city and country, etc) I keep my writing focused on expat life. I have had readers ask detailed questions about Embassy work (99.9% of whom I am sure are merely very curious, because it is different and intertesting.) I direct them to public websites. It's not my place to say.