Friday, January 08, 2010

Blogging in the Foreign Service

DiploPundit has a good piece on the new toys that are available for reaching the world and the State Department's resistance to using them. She sites a report the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, wrote for Foreign Policy on “How the U.S. State Department should enable and encourage social-networking sites in the global fight for freedom. In the report, Senator Luger said:

"But social networking technologies are more often used to enable individuals across a country, or across the globe, to interact, engage, and become empowered. Although this means that our government will not be able to control the message as well as it might with conventional public diplomacy tools, I believe it is a risk worth taking. Terrorists and other anti-American propagandists have for some time been using the Internet and other techniques to communicate and recruit. America needs to beat them at their own game, especially since we invented most of the technology.

I would encourage the administration and our diplomats to be nimble, flexible, and innovative as they pursue a wide range of foreign-policy initiatives that use these new communication and connection techniques. Diplomacy and development are our best means of winning the global war of ideas, and we must come to the battle armed with the most modern tools at our disposal."

Of course, the Department is loath to be nimble and flexible. And, I would argue, suffers from multiple personality syndrome where blogging and new media are concerned. I am in Public Affairs and have discussed new media and blogging with those in HR as well, and I can assure you that both bureaus LOVE blogging and new media. PA tweets. PA blogs. And they love that others do as well because it is a way to get our message out and is a great recruitment tool.

DS and some political folks, on the other hand, are convinced it is a security risk and that we bloggers are half-way down the path of handing the keys to the building over to terrorists. And while there is a course now at FSI that includes new media, even there, both personalities are evident. After we hear about all the great things we can do with new media, a speaker comes in and tells us all the reasons we can't. And then of course there is the directive that we have to clear anything of "official concern." As you can imagine, "official concern" is in the eyes of the beholder, and the clearance process and the realities of our techno-savvy world are completely incompatible. If I cleared everything I wrote here, I would still not have entries discussing anything more recent than months ago.

And the world would have moved on.

One of the most disturbing things I read on DiploPundit's entry was a comment from another FS blogger, who said she walked by the A-100 classroom and head the coordinator "crushing the blogging hopes and dreams of one of the new officers." I hope they don't listen, because I believe the anti-blogging parts of the Department will ultimately be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of new technology by those bureaus that have already realized what a great tool it is. PA tweeting messages from the Secretary's speech on development this earlier this week, and one of those was retweeted by a group with 360,000 followers. THAT is getting our message out. (ON EDIT: Looks like at least one new FS blogger has already deleted his blog based on what was said in the current A-100. And his in particular was helpful to those looking to join. Sad.)

Personally, I blog because I love serving this country and I want other good folks to join me, but with eyes wide open. It is why I maintain such an extensive blogroll. I want people to have access to slices from a wide variety of Foreign Service experiences. And I blog because communication and self-analysis makes us stronger. And because we have to get our message out in ways that people today will hear. And that means communicating not through the channels we are accustomed to but in the places where we can actually reach people.


Anonymous said...

Digger - I appreciate the link, thanks! You see all the new FS blogs sprouting when they get accepted and when they initially start training. And then nothing ... yes, as Hanah says, it is sad but -- not difficult to understand. The more get scared, the better. No blog, no mistake. I've noticed several more blogs go under/private in the last few months. I think if somebody delivers a gag order, maybe once or twice a year, that should do it.

I think part of the resistance is State's old view of the world. That only good, no great news is fit for public consumption. And if what you write is not vetted, how do they know it's not bad. Really, the agency trust you enough to do your job, but does not trust enough that you know the difference between sensitive and nonsensitive materials for public consumption. ROFL! I still think that in the end, it has to do with message control. There ought to be a warning:

Don't wander off the page. There are tigers beyond these lines. They are trained to bite.

Unknown said...

Bloggers unite and keep fighting the good fight despite bureaucratic resistance to change! It's only a matter of time before the old schoolers fade out. Clearly, the more honest and transparent we are, the more trust we'll earn, and the greater cultural understanding there will be. America has such an incredible story to tell... our only failure is NOT telling it!

roysie said...

It's true! After A-100 I was scared out of my wits to blog, but after going through the IO course I realized it was in my (and the department's) best interest to be familiar with new media. Plus, I really enjoy it; and until I see the harm I will continue.

Sarah Novak said...

Thanks for the links to my blogs! You've really sent me a lot of traffic! I am following your lead and now have a running list of FS blogs up on my MinnesotaGal site. Keep up the great blogging!

Sarah Novak (MinnesotaGal and Inspired Overseas Living)

Brian... said...

Interesting thoughts. I link to you in my post.

I think we, as FSO bloggers, have a duty to respectfully explain the benefits of blogging and hear out those who have concerns. More constructive dialogue on both sides would be can we make that happen?

Dave said...

This is a relevant topic for me as I wait on the register and use my blog as a tool to communicate and "think out loud". I'm concerned that DoS may make an ultimatum in the future, which would definitely cause much grinding of teeth (or worse).

I've linked to several of your posts here: