There are a couple of articles out today proposing some frankly terrifying new rules on the use of media by anyone working for the State Department. I personally think these rules will have a chilling affect not just on our freedom of speech (and really...they need to clear on my Christmas tree post?)but on our ability to do diplomacy, particularly public diplomacy.
So I wrote a letter to Susan Johnson, the President of our employee association, AFSA. I am publishing it here...while I still can (though I really doubt these would stand up in court):
I don’t know if you have seen this, but there are a couple of pieces out on the Department trying to come up with new rules regarding using traditional or social media or making speeches. There are articles on it in the Washington Post and on DiploPundit.
According to DiploPundit, "the new rules will reportedly cover real-time or live presentation of views or ideas, whether physically before an audience, over a text-only or visual online forum, in-person, online, or over the phone interviews, other real-time communication and oh, teaching." Should these be approved, we will be required to get "2 working days for clearance on social media postings; 5 working days for blog posts; 5 working days for speeches, live events notes, talking points; 10 working days for articles, papers including online publications and 30 working days for books, manuscripts and other lengthy publications."
This is extremely concerning for several reasons. First, while we all agree not to discuss matters of “official concern” (i.e. Foreign Policy), none of us has agreed to give up our freedom of speech. But second, this will have a frightening effect on any PD officer’s attempt to do our jobs. As it stands now, for example, I can post freely post to our social media site pictures of events we have just held, our daily message, or information the Ambassador would like to see there. It is this real time communication that has made us more approachable to younger audiences. That will come to a grinding halt. We will lose all of the advantages social media gives us in reaching foreign audiences. And the reality is, if you have every post in the world seeking clearance for every tweet, every speech, every interview, nothing will end up getting cleared. Clearances from PA are notoriously slow now without these rules. Can you imagine what it will be like with literally thousands more clearance requests per day? For just my post and just today, we have done two Facebook posts, one tweet, one speech, and one interview. That is five clearances for us for one day. And it was a slow day for us.
I hope you will consider having AFSA take on this issue. Because we should not give up our freedom of speech in order to serve the country, and we shouldn’t be given all of these great tools for reaching people and then have those tools rendered useless. Diplomacy is people to people, and I thought we were trying to get away from being people to bureaucracy to people.
Three years in London: May 2016
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