Social Media

State's proposal to delay tweets draws undelayed reaction

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One of the virtues of social media, and Twitter in particular, is immediacy.  But according to the blog Diplopundit, the State Department is in the midst of rewriting rules for agency personnel in public speaking, teaching, social media, writing and media engagement that could take that virtue away.

If implemented, the proposed changes could force State Department employees to submit their tweets to up to a two-day review before they could be posted, apparently to ensure personnel do not write or post statements that might “damage the department,” Diplopundit reported, citing a draft document of the rules.

Blogosphere reaction was swift and decidedly against the State Department’s potential rule changes as outlined on Diplopundit.

“Two days to review and approve a tweet? Kind of defeats the insta-knee-jerk nature of the medium. And you can forget live-tweeting.,” wrote Washington Post blogger Emily Heil.

Will McCants, a former senior adviser for countering violent extremism at the State Department, penned an argument suggesting tighter social media policies could cost diplomats and foreign service providers considerable insight if they lose the ability to communicate – and build relationships – with locals in real-time.

The department, McCants said, would lose out on a valuable tool if tweeting is restricted.

“The United States’ ability to achieve its objective overseas will suffer as a consequence,” McCants said.

In a response to McCants’ blog post, Alec Ross, senior advisor for innovation at the Office of Secretary of State, argued that “updating our social-media guidelines will help make the State Department more open and social-media centric, not less open.”

Ross said existing guidelines currently allow for a 30-day review period on all forms of communication – including those for social media – but added that review and response in actuality “is much quicker,” and the effort to change the rules to a two-day review on some content is actually an improvement.
“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,” Ross said. “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.”

In a statement sent to FCW, State Department’s acting deputy spokesperson, Patrick Ventrell, said policy updates are not yet finalized.

"Provisions in the Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual are constantly under review,” Ventrell said. “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."

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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