Tweets gone wrong a concern at State Department
Gov't proposes new guidelines for posting to social media
In the middle of a foreign policy crisis, diplomacy isn't always best digested 140 characters at a time.
But the reaction so far to newly proposed State Department guidelines for staff members tweeting in their official capacity about certain subjects has been universally negative.
Under the proposed guidelines, obtained by the Diplopundit blog, there could be up to a two-day review ahead of publishing posts on social media sites.
Naturally, the issue turned into a heated debate on Twitter.
The story was picked up by the Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, a prolific tweeter himself.
"If the State Dept is really thinking about 2-day vetting of tweets, that's the dumbest idea ever," Kristof tweeted.
That tweet generated dozens of snarky responses before the State Department's Alec Ross, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's guru for all social media, weighed in.
To Kristof, Ross tweeted:
"Hello from HRC's office @StateDept. Vast majority of tweets go out instantly. No 2 day review for normal social media use."
For Will McCants, the writer at Foreign Policy, who wrote about the new rules, Ross was slightly less diplomatic.
"Would have been happy to give you more info than a blog post to report from. Oh well...," Ross tweeted.
But tweets gone wrong have created real problems for the United States.
A State Department official working out of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo may have instigated further protests outside the embassy when he tried to denounce an anti-Muslim video.
The tweets, which were not approved by the State Department, had the effect of bringing the video even more publicity.
It ended up becoming fodder for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to criticize the Obama administration as apologizing for what should have been a defense of free speech.
The new guidelines, Ross told CNN, are actually an attempt to make the State Department more savvy on social media and faster at posting, not less. The Twitterverse may not like the two-day proposal, but that's 28-days shorter than the current rules.
"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," Ross said. "If the draft guidelines go into effect as they are, that would shrink from 30 days to two days."
Ross noted the review period has always been for a "small subset of content" regarding foreign policy hot spots that could damage the department or disclose sensitive information.
To be fair, the State Department logged in to the digital age much earlier than most government agencies.
In Foggy Bottom, one needs to be fired up about being wired up. Blogging and tweeting are now part of every diplomat's job description.
At any given moment you can find someone like the top official on Latin America tweeting in Spanish about his latest trip to Peru, or Clinton posting podcasts on the State Department website and soliciting questions from the public on the State Department's blog, Dipnote.
Beneath the Web atmospherics is what Ross, Clinton's "innovation" guru, calls "21st century statecraft."
Ross, a 40-year-old former technology adviser to Barack Obama's 2008 campaign, is at the forefront of a push by Clinton to use technology and social media as a diplomatic tool.
Since taking office, Clinton has made the spread of information technology and Internet freedom a cornerstone of her foreign policy, hoping both will serve as catalysts for spreading democracy.
Currently, with the 30 day window, the review usually takes fewer than two days. Going forward, it will probably be even shorter than that in practice, Ross said. He added that the new guidelines would not 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, Ross said.