Tag Archives: 5 FAM 790

Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference – But What Happened to 3 FAM 4170?

– Domani Spero

 

 Updated 12/16/14 at 9:45 pm: We understand from the “R” shop that 3 FAM 4170 is in clearance now and something about “third time’s a charm!” What’s that about?

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The December issue of the Foreign Service Journal includes a Speaking Out piece by FSO Wren Elhai, Twitter Is a Cocktail Party, Not a Press Conference (or, Social Media for Reporting Officers). The author is currently serving in the political-economic section of Consulate General Karachi. Prior to joining the State Department, he worked at the Center for Global Development, a D.C.-based think-tank, as a policy analyst where he also ran the Center’s Twitter and Facebook pages. Excerpt below:

Current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations require any State Department employee posting anything to a social media site that relates to a matter “of official concern” to go through the same clearance process that would govern a media appearance or a published op-ed.

This is a shockingly vague rule, one that I have been told in training covers even posting quotes from official State Department statements or links to articles that support U.S. policy. It is a rule so vague that any diplomat with a Facebook account will confirm that nearly every one of us violates it on a daily basis.

If you think of Twitter as the digital equivalent of a newspaper, then it makes sense to try to maintain control over what diplomats say there. However, if Twitter is a digital cocktail party, that’s an untenable position. No one would even consider asking diplomats to pre-clear everything they say to people they meet at public events—let alone to seek press office clearance before starting a conversation with a potential contact.

We are paid to know U.S. foreign policy, to present and defend our positions, and to not embarrass ourselves when we open our mouths in public. We are trusted to speak tactfully and to know what topics are best discussed in other settings.

Our policy should treat our interactions online and in the real world on an even footing. Yes, there will be rare occasions when diplomats speak undiplomatically and, just as when this happens in the real world, those diplomats should face consequences.

But just as we don’t limit ourselves to talking about the weather at receptions, we should be able to present U.S. policy and engage with contacts online. To meet people, we need to show up for the party.

Read in full via FSJ here.

On the topic of consequences, Sir James Bevan KCMG, UK High Commissioner to India recently gave a speech to a group of journalists that’s related to this, particularly on how one might be a bit boring on Twitter, and for good reasons:

And we diplomats sometimes have to behave a bit differently from you journalists, or at least have to pretend that we do. There are things which you can do and say which we diplomats cannot, lest we provide you with copy that is good for you but bad for us. 

Some of you have said that my Twitter account @HCJamesBevan is a little bit boring. There’s a reason for that: I like my job and I want to keep it. For a diplomat, being too interesting on Twitter is the quickest way to get sacked. I like India and I want to stay here.

 

Back to the article, the author of the FSJ piece has cited 5 FAM 790 Using Social Media (pdf) on his article, the guidance first issued in June 2010. You might, however, want to check out 3 FAM 4172.1-3 (pdf) Review of Materials Prepared in an Employee’s Private Capacity, which includes matters of “official concern.”  It does look like 3 FAM 4170, the regs for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching (pdf) has not been updated since 2009, but right now, that’s the official rules.

This past June, AFSA told its members that for more than a year it has been negotiating a revision to the current Foreign Affairs Manual regulations governing public speaking and writing (3 FAM 4170).

“As mentioned in our 2013 Annual Report, our focus has been to accommodate the rise of social media and protect the employee’s ability to publish. We have emphasized the importance of a State Department response to clearance requests within a defined period of time (30 days or less). For those items requiring interagency review, our goal is to increase transparency, communication and oversight.  We look forward to finalizing the negotiations on the FAM chapter soon—stay tuned for its release.”

This long awaited update to 3 FAM 4170 has been in draft mode since 2012 (see State Dept to Rewrite Media Engagement Rules for Employees in Wake of Van Buren Affair. Also check out a related piece we did in February 2013 (see Social Media Schizophrenia Continues on Background, and Oh, Stuff That Loophole, Ey?).

Hey, is it true that 3 FAM 4172.1-7  also known as the Peter Van Buren clause is nowhere to be found in the new version?

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Filed under AFSA, Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Service, FSOs, Peter Van Buren, Public Diplomacy, Realities of the FS, Regulations, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work, Updates

Will McCants’ Lost in Cyberspace and the State Dept’s Missing Balls

On December 4, we wrote about the State Dept rewriting the media engagement rules for employees in the wake of the Peter Van Buren affair.

A blog pal wrote, asking if we knew that we caused a stir in the Truman building.  Like “State did not have their talking points or justifications in order.”

Talking points need clearance, too.  Oh dear.

The piece was  picked up by Charles Cooper of C|Net on December 5, and he actually got an official email response from State’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner of the Bureau of Public Affairs.

Provisions in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual are constantly under review. We are in the process of updating the regulations governing publication — both traditional and digital — to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment. The updates are still in progress and not final. They will be public, like all of our regulations, when they are final.

Not  a bad response.  But it probably means, it gets updated every time something hits the fan.

3 FAM 4170 for Official Clearance of Speaking, Writing, and Teaching  was last updated in 2009. All except one of the sub-rules date back to 2005.

The rules for Using Social Media in the State Department are listed in 5 FAM 790 and released in June 2010.  One of State’s self-identified media gurus once told us that this reg is not perfect; but so far we have not seen any effort to improved it.

Once the rules are in the books, it’ll take sometime before the regs gets another update.

A few days after the WaPo and C|Net articles, Will McCants, an analyst at CNA and a former senior adviser for countering violent extremism at the State Department as well as the author of a DoD-commissioned study of how to communicate with foreign audiences using social media, wrote Lost in Cyberspace in Foreign Policy. Excerpt below:

Although the review began before the U.S. Embassy in Cairo tweeted controversial denunciations of the anti-Mohamed YouTube clip that sparked riots in September, friends at State tell me that Embassy Cairo’s tweets — which were not approved by Washington — gave added urgency to the effort to draft new guidelines for online behavior. State’s contemplated restrictions on its employees’ use of Twitter do not arise from a misunderstanding of a medium; some of Twitter’s most prominent members, including Jared Cohen and Alec Ross, work or have worked at State. Rather, State worries that the freewheeling, uncontrollable environment of Twitter could lead the public interpret the tweets of its employees as representing the official U.S. position on sensitive issues.
[…]
“The more State allows its employees to tweet during periods of calm, the more likely it will be that the institution can weed out problem tweeters and elevate those who have done a good job cultivating a community of interest.”

There is also something to be said for creating a little distance between the official U.S. position declared by a State spokesperson and tweets from embassy spokespeople and employees. State can take a long time formulating messages in response to crises because it has to vet them in many offices and, often, with the national security staff in the White House. By allowing embassy tweeters to message on their own, State will get early indications of what works and what doesn’t for the various audiences it is trying to reach.

Read in full over at FP – Lost in Cyberspace.

Attracted lots of eyeballs. Fun twittersation follows the FP article.

twittersation updated fam

Even @NickKristof  waded in and then others, too.

@NickKristof If the State Dept is really thinking about 2-day vetting of tweets, that’s the dumbest idea ever.

@AlecJRoss “@Diplopundit @emilcDC @thenewdiplomats @tomistweeting My team involved in drafting/approving. Not even close to what has been blogged.”

 

Whoops! Cushy tushy hurts! But teh-heh!

Here is a curious thing.  The Public Affairs guy responded to C|Net earlier on, and then Mr. Ross took to the spin floor later on.  Note that Alec J. Ross may be the senior advisor at the Office of the Secretary of State, but the clearing office for all matters in the Big House is located within the Bureau of Public Affairs, an office in the Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. How involved is his team in “drafting/approving” the regs we may never know. But there are multiple offices involved in the drafting and clearance of the regs not just one.

Perhaps somebody should get in touch?

So then, Alec J. Ross whose actual title if you don’t know it yet is senior advisor for innovation at the Office of the Secretary of State, responded to Will McCants’s piece with:

Updating our social-media guidelines will help make the State Dept MORE open and social media-centric, not less open. It will also make us faster.

EXISTING guidelines allow a 30-day review period for all forms of public communication, including those intended for online publications and social media, though in practice review and response is much quicker. That means that the policy we have in place NOW allows us a 30-day review period. If the DRAFT guidelines go into effect as they are (and they’re still draft), that would shrink from 30 days to two days for a small subset of content. It doesn’t mean that we would take the two days or that it would increase the number of social media posts that are reviewed. We just want to provide an outside window by which employees are promised a response. “

Somebody walked that statement to the PA clearance office, huh?  And since Mr. Ross is practically a Twitter national, he also tweeted the author and got an immediate response.

@will_mccants
oops, should have submitted my article 4 review RT @AlecJRoss: @will_mccants In future please get in touch before publishing on this topic.

So cute!

Okay, then, Mr. Ross’s response sounds good.  Looking forward to a fantastic “MORE open and social media-centric” final rule.  But hey, don’t forget, 5 FAM 790on Using Social Media needs a good scrubbing, too.  We’ll have a separate post on how well the 30 day clearance rule rocks outside the studio.

But on social media, the demand for almost immediate response carries an inherent risk.  The question is how much are you willing to risk? And what about those who are “engaging” in the the public sphere in their personal capacity? How tolerant is your organization to perceived mistakes that will inevitably happen?

We remember that Mr. Ross said once, “We”re willing to make mistakes of commission rather than omission.”

Just because he said it, does not make it so.

Anyway, wasn’t US Embassy Egypt’s Larry Schwartz thrown under the bus because of those ‘er “mistakes of commission?” Recalled anyone  with balls from State’s 21st century statecraft shop who went online to defend our man in Cairo?

We don’t recall Mr. Ross or anyone at State with a Twitter handle defending the poor sod at the US Embassy in Cairo in the aftermath of that controversial statement and tweets following the mob attack there in September. The statement and the tweets could have only been approved by the Chief of Mission in Cairo because that’s where the clearance authority is delegated per FAM regulations.

See more here. The notion that the embassy statement was sent to Main State for clearance when there was a senior PA officer at post, or that the PAO was specifically told not to use it and he went ahead and did it anyway is just way too ludicrous. That’s not how careers are built at State.

And really dudes — if the mob is going over your walls, and the police is not coming, you want to try and diffuse the situation rather than throw petrol bombs at the crowd. So …

President Obama, who does not hold office at the State Department did offer muted support which is better than nothing: “And my tendency is to cut folks a little bit of slack when they’re in that circumstance, rather than try to question their judgment from the comfort of a campaign office.”

Secretary Clinton said what? Sorry, can’t hear you.

Still, in October, unnamed State Dept officials told the WSJ that Mr. Schwartz had been on temporary assignment in Cairo and has been given a new “permanent position” in Washington.  They made the relocation sounds like a promotion.  While a TDY assignment to Cairo is not unheard of, Egypt is not/not a Hard to Fill post. Which means assignments are formalized a year before an FSO is actually assigned there.  Prior to Cairo, Mr. Schwartz was the Director for Planning, Policy, and Resources at the Office of the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.  As to Mr. Schwartz being given a new permanent position, he is not listed anywhere on the State Dept’s current directory.  Anyone know if he even has a real desk there?

Perhaps State is learning.  Last November when @USEmbassyCairo made another splash on Twitter, at least the Near Eastern Affairs bureau spokesman showed up for some sort of “we’ve got your back” moment.

That’s a good thing.  And it should help, too if you stop throwing your guys under the bus.

domani spero sig

 

 

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Filed under Digital Diplomacy, People, Regulations, Social Media, State Department, Technology and Work

Oh hello there — we’re in today’s In the Loop show, no photos please!

WaPo’s Emily Heil gave Diplopundit a walk-on part in today’s In the Loop.

The State Department is considering instituting an extreme version of the famous 7-second delay used to keep profanity off live TV.

The department is rewriting its rules on social media, blogging, speeches and other appearances by employees, suggesting that officials get a full two days to review an employee’s proposed tweets and five days to give a yea or nay to a blog post, speech, or remarks prepared for a live event, according to the blog Diplopundit.
[…]
State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner tells the Loop the still-in-the-works changes are merely updates “to recognize the dynamic and decentralized nature of the 21st century information environment.”

We know agency budgets are tight all around, but it sounds like the State Department better spring for some extra red pens.

Read in full here.

Also see Life After Jerusalem: New Rules on the Use of Media: going back to “people to bureaucracy to people”

Just to be sure, this is in reference to the — okay, “still-in-the works” changes of 3 FAM 4170 and not/not 5 FAM 790 released in 2010 which set the rules for the use of social media by State Department employees.

We’ve asked if these new changes have any bearing on spouses and partners of State employees but have not heard anything back.

As mentioned in this blog before, among the listed authorities of 5 FAM 790 is 3 FAM 4125, Outside Employment and Activities by Spouses and Family Members Abroad.(pdf)  The regs say “Family members of Department personnel working abroad who create and/or use social media cites must adhere to the policies contained in 3 FAM 4125.”

That section of course, is like Mars, without the rover.

domani spero sig

 

 

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Filed under Blognotes, Digital Diplomacy, Foreign Service, FS Blogs, Life After Jerusalem, Regulations, Social Media, Spouses/Partners, State Department, Technology and Work