Last week it was announced that the State Department’s new Digital Outreach Team has entered the blogosphere to counter misperceptions about U.S. foreign policy in the Arab world, with plans to expand into Persian and Urdu blogs as well.
According to an article that appeared in Reuters today:
The Digital Outreach Team's job is to spring into action when they see bloggers on Arabic-language sites maligning the U.S. and casting aspersions on U.S. policies.
Duncan MacInnis, the man in charge of the team, described it as "an initiative to counter ideological support for terrorism."
Government bloggers "speak the language and idiom of the region, know the cultural reference points and are often able to converse informally and frankly rather than adopt the usually more formal persona of a U.S. government spokesman," he said.
"This is a major departure from our previous ways of conducting public diplomacy. It requires both creativity and a new set of skills."
A Washington Post article from earlier this week touched on the anonymity issue:
Even though the State Department employees were not going into hard-core terrorist sites, the worry, MacInnes said, was that after identifying themselves and using their own names, "we would be, in the parlance of the Internet, 'flamed' when we come on" -- meaning their entries would be subjected to intense attacks.As well as moderating:
They were not, and there were such posts as, "We don't like your policies but we're sure glad you're here talking to us about it," MacInnes said. As a result, State is expanding the team to six speakers of Arabic, two of Persian and one of Urdu.
“Because blogging tends to be a very informal, chatty way of working," MacInnes said, "it is actually very dangerous to blog." So State has a senior experienced officer, who served in Iraq, acting as supervisor and discussing each posting before it goes up.But it doesn’t talk about how the Digital Outreach Team ensures that others know who their true members are. Someone posing as Condoleezza Rice for a TV or newspaper interview would easily be found out- it may not be that easy on the blogosphere.
This counterterrrorism tactic further illustrates how powerful blogs have become and brings up issues of blogging ethics with potentially high stakes.