In an ironic coincidence the State Department’s communications staff is asking the public to help rename its official blog at the same time higher ups are reportedly considering new rules that could delay posts to that blog for up to five days for vetting.
The new vetting rules would also require a 10 day delay for articles or op eds by State employees, five days for speeches and an amazing two days for tweets and other social media posts. [Translation: If approved, State would no longer communicate with citizens about unfolding events and no longer engage in any kind of substantive give and take with the public].
The vetting report is from the blog DiploPundit, which cites “inside the building sources.” The move was reportedly prompted by the department’s ire at Peter Van Buren, a Foreign Service officer who wrote a critical book about his time working on reconstruction in Iraq.
This gets to the question of what public engagement really means in the Internet age. There’s a lot of fluffy, fun stuff online but when it comes down to it, substance still matters.
There’s nothing wrong with engaging the public in renaming State’s main blog of course. Nor is there anything wrong with the First Lady sharing a recipe for soup made from sweet potatoes in the White House garden. But the public value of these can’t hold a candle to smart, honest and timely information from the State Department about unfolding events in a crisis.