How the State Department uses social media has been the subject of great interest domestically and abroad. That makes sense: over the past four years, the U.S. State Department has been experimenting with digital diplomacy at the edge of the network. (The use of Twitter by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, received worldwide attention after it engaged the Muslim Brotherhood.)
This December, Domani Spero wrote at Diplopundit that the State Department would be rewriting the rules of engagement on social media, connecting the draft changes to the termination of diplomat Peter Van Buren. The post was picked up by CBS News, which reported that the State Department was considering new rules and a two day delay, and the Washington Post, which connected the new rules to book reviews, as Spero suggested in his post.
A clarification from Alec J. Ross regarding a draft of the State Departments’s new social media policy strongly suggests that media coverage of the proposal isn’t grounded in existing policy.
According to Ross, Secretary of State Clinton’s senior advisor for innovation, the draft policy will actually speed up the process, not add more layers of review.
He made a similar statement to Federal Computer Week and CNN, where Elise Labott covered the online reaction that the Diplopundit post catalyzed, and responded to New York Times columnist Nick Kristof on Twitter:
In answer to a question I posed on Twitter, Ross clarified via email that the State Department had already been taking up to 30 days to decide how (or whether) to respond on an official social media account.
“Normal review is minutes, not hours, much less days,” he wrote. “Draft rules would decrease allowable time for review from 30 to 2 days, not that we’d start taking two days or subject an increasing percentage to review. It’s a more social media-friendly content publishing rule. At its most basic: 30 to 2 days.”
There will continue to be exceptions for certain issues, which makes considerable sense, given how politically fraught some of the topics the State Department has to address will continue to be.
“Theoretically, we are allowed to take 30 days to review any content of sensitive nature,” he wrote. ”The actual percentage of social media postings that get reviewed is very, very small and related to extremely sensitive content (security-related or politically very consequential) and even then tends to be cleared and edited in minutes or hours, never days.”
[Image Credit: State Department Flickr feed. In the picture, “Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Judith Mchale, center, participates in the State Department’s first global Twitter Q & A, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on June 29, 2011.”]