Diplomatic Bloggers: To Blog or Not to Blog

That “Official Concern” Thingy/2

In Tough Decisions, new FS blogger, TH of The Hegemonist, is considering his options given the restrictions under these regulations, writing: “In other words, anything about the Department or about US foreign affairs is off limits without clearance.

Elsewhere in State’s guide for Federal Web Sites (5 FAM 770 Federal Web Sites), specifically addressing online collaborations (5 FAM 777 (6)) it says:

Employees, acting in their private capacity, may establish personal blogs, wikis, or any other collaborative forum; however, the provisions of 3 FAM 4172.1-3 must be followed. Any posting to a wiki or blog that contains information “of official concern” to the Department must be cleared through PA (for domestic employees) or Chief of Mission (for employees serving abroad), unless being referenced from existing publicly available information.

The last line of course, could still be parsed in different ways. If a diplomat is blogging about the GAO report on the Embassy in Iraq, is that exempt from review — it being “of official concern” but from publicly available information? Or diplomats can blog about the GAO report without the required review, as long as they’re only reprinting what was in the report, and without commentaries? Someone else may have a different interpretation about this, but it seems to me that a review becomes necessary every time a personal opinion or commentary enters into the picture. I supposed somebody could check with the Legal Office for a more accurate interpretation? If you do and you get a response, let me know…

In any case, if you’re a diplomat writing a blog in your private capacity and requesting a review for your posts here is something to note:

All public speaking, writing, or teaching materials on matters of official concern prepared in an employee’s private capacity must also be submitted for a reasonable period of review, not to exceed thirty days, to the office specified in 3 FAM 4172.1-3(C). In the case of time-sensitive materials of reasonably brief length, the period of review should be abbreviated in an effort to accommodate the interests of employees.

But blog postings by their very nature are “time-sensitive” – short, and quick and shouldn’t have a long publishing lead time because they lose their “flavor” when you wait too long. Why blog about a diplomatic surge if it concluded months ago? The timeliness of the blog is what sets it apart from the other medium. It’s supposed to be a quick informal take… But wait – if you write about a diplomatic surge, wouldn’t that fall under the “official concern” umbrella, too?

Can anyone really imagine submitting private daily blog posts to Public Affairs or the Front Office for clearance? And if it were actually done, who has the time to review them? And can those offices decline to review for lack of time or staff? There must be a recognition to the unfeasibility of this guideline. Over at The Hegemonist where this subject is currently being discussed one commenter said:

“An ironic aside: one of my A100 coordinators has been blogging for years, yet this was conveniently not mentioned during that part of A100 when we were admonished not to blog, ever.”

Not to blog, ever! Really!

Ayayay! And State is growing the next crop of Public Diplomacy professionals? I’m a bit twisted in confusion here.

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