On January 17, 2017, the State Department issued a new Foreign Affairs Manual guidance “for senior officials and other employees whose positions require them to engage in official communications on behalf of the State Department over social media.” These officials and employees “must not use personal social media accounts to do so.” They are required to use official social media accounts “created and owned by the Department.”
The new rules say that Department social media spokespersons must be instructed before they begin their positions that they will not be able to use their personal social media accounts for official communication. When Department social media spokespersons begin their positions, they are provided access to official social media accounts, and they will lose access to those accounts when they leave that position. Whenever possible, the same account is passed from one incumbent in a position to the next. As such, account names include only the office or position (e.g., @USEmbConsularManila, @USAmbManila); they do not include personal names.
“In order to put a “human face” on the Department’s social media presence, Department social media spokespersons are authorized, but not required, to post certain kinds of personal content to their official accounts (e.g., posts about family news, pictures of pets, discussions of hobbies). This personal content may be considered official communications and must comply with, among other things, restrictions on partisan political activities, endorsements of commercial goods or services, fundraising and solicitations, official actions affecting financial interests, and the publication of information that could compromise the security of the individual or others.”
The guidance notes that all accounts that have been used for official communications are considered Department accounts, and are either retained by the Department for use by the next incumbent or retired in accordance with applicable records disposition schedules, as appropriate. The content of such accounts is also retired in accordance with applicable records disposition schedules.
The guidance says that missions, bureaus, or offices must maintain a list of their authorized official social media accounts and the credentials for those accounts. Accounts are created in accordance with 5 FAM 793. It looks like they’ve got tons of work to do.
The new regs do not identify which senior officials, nor specifically mentions ambassadors, or principal offices as required to do this, but the regs cites “senior officials and other employees whose positions require them to engage in official communications on behalf of the State Department over social media.” One example cited is the U.S. Ambassador to Manila Twitter account, @USAmbManila, which adheres to the Twitter handle convention required under 10 FAM 180.
The regs also does not include guidance on what to do with existing social media accounts, nor a time frame when these senior officials must start using Department-created social media accounts. What if senior officials continue using their personal social media accounts despite these updated rules, what then? 10 FAM 180 doesn’t say, but a quick review of State Department social media accounts show that some social media accounts (@USAmbMongolia, @USAmbNepal, @USAmbManila, @StateDG, @WHASpeaks, etc.) have adhered to these rules but a good number of senior officials still do not appear to be in compliance with 10 FAM 180.
Note from examples below that Joe Crook, spokesperson for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs uses @WHASpeaks as his Twitter handle instead of his name. The US Ambassador to Mongolia Jennifer Z. Galt uses @USAmbMongolia not @JenniferZGalt. Similarly, the US Ambassador to Nepal Alaina B. Teplitz uses @USAmbNepal not @AlainaBTeplitz. As well, per 10 FAM 180, Director General Arnold Chacon’s does not use his name as his Twitter handle but @StateDG, and Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Bruce Wharton uses @UnderSecPD on Twitter instead of a personalized handle. This makes the transition of these accounts to the successor to these positions seamless, and painless. We think this also help ensure that every official encumbering a new position does not start from scratch in their social media networks after every turn-over. And since they’re considered official communication, they must also be considered federal records for retention purposes.
@AmbCKennedy with 134K followers is now an archived account; a new account @USAmbJapan, currently an egghead and a protected account went up last month presumably waiting for the next U.S. Ambassador to Tokyo to show up and build his/her new network. @AmbPower44 with 625K followers is now archived, and her successor @nikkihaley with 218K followers assumed office at @USUN without assuming an official handle. Except wait, the US Ambassador to the US has cabinet rank which gives the current ambassador (and the previous one) direct access to POTUS without having to go through the State Department, so we don’t even know if the FAM has any meaning in this specific case. That said, there are obviously other officials who are not in compliance with 10 FAM 180. We’ll have to see what State will do about those accounts.
A Princeton PhD, was a US diplomat for over 20 years, mostly in Eastern Europe, and was promoted to the Senior Foreign Service in 1997. For the Open World Leadership Center, he speaks with
its delegates from Europe/Eurasia on the topic, "E Pluribus Unum? What Keeps the United States United." Affiliated with Georgetown University for over ten years, he shares ideas with students about public diplomacy.
The papers of his deceased father -- poet and diplomat John L. Brown -- are stored at Georgetown University Special Collections at the Lauinger Library. They are manuscript materials valuable to scholars interested in post-WWII U.S.-European cultural relations.
This blog is dedicated to him, Dr. John L. Brown, a remarkable linguist/humanist who wrote in the Foreign Service Journal (1964) -- years before "soft power" was ever coined -- that "The CAO [Cultural Affairs Officer] soon comes to realize that his job is really a form of love-making and that making love is never really successful unless both partners are participating."