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Quote of the Day: Permission to Speak Freely?

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, February 17 2011

Facebook's Adam Noyes and the State Department's Dan Baer and Alec Ross

That's not a license to be stupid.

-- Alec Ross, who serves as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's senior advisor on innovation, defined what he sees as the parameters of the State Department's generally liberal policy, adopted in June (pdf), on how its staffers should use things like Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Ross, appearing at an online Q&A hosted by Facebook's Washington DC office, recommended that State Department employees conduct themselves online as if they were appearing on live television.

There will be bumps in the road, said Ross. Back in late June, Ross and then colleague (now Google staffer) Jared Cohen earned an article in the New York Times for tweeting informally about iced coffees and cake-eating contests while on an official trip to Syria, postings that the Times' Mark Landler said "embarrassed the State Department" and "raised hackles on Capitol Hill." During today's session, Ross went on to discuss a blurring of the line between what's official business and what's private matters that can happen online. "It's really hard to make the distinction between your personal life and your private life on the Internet," said Ross. "Maybe that shouldn't be the case. But guess what? It just is."

There are hints that the message from Foggy Bottom isn't always trickling down in the field.

A post this week on the anonymous blog DiploPundit chided Secretary Clinton for promoting Internet freedom, as she did in a big speech on Tuesday, while her State Department (allegedly) gives staffers and their spouses a hard time about their personal blogs, sometimes leaning on writers to take their blogs down. Of course, DiploPundit blogs, State has an interest in keeping tabs on some content. That said, writes DiploPundit, "personal musings and opinions can quickly cross that chalked lines, if your boss so decides that what you write about all fall under the large umbrella of 'official concern.'" DiploPundit's post earns a "required reading" and "booyah, baby" from the blogging wife of a State Department diplomatic security staffer assigned to China.