Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On the bright side: at least you won't get fired

It seems someone in uniform thought Matt in Afghanistan was saying things he shouldn't have been:

A Kitchener soldier who has been blogging in Afghanistan for friends and family back home has been ordered to stop.

The military told Matt Austin, 21, to remove all of the blog's entries, the soldier said in a text message to his mother, Rose Anstett.

If you read the comments to BBS' previous post, you'll find why this comes as no big shock to me. Calling a piece of your own kit a "casket-wagen" in a public forum is a no-no. I'm not saying you can't say it in private with your buddies, or even in correspondence with your family. You should certainly say it up the chain of command if you don't have confidence in your equipment. But on a blog that can be accessed by anyone, including your enemy? I'm not surprised he was told to sort himself out and delete the content.

Of course, the content is still there, through the dark magic of Google Cache. If you're going to order the guy to pull his stuff, you might want to give some consideration to how to do it thoroughly.

Which brings me to my main point, which is that the CF has practically no clue how to deal with this sort of stuff. They don't properly monitor it, and they don't know how to police it. In fact, they admit as much in the TorStar article referenced above:

Because blogging is relatively new, McNair said, the Canadian Forces have no policy dealing with it. "We don't have a problem with blogs themselves and we don't have a problem with soldiers saying, `This is what my life is like in Afghanistan.' We only have a concern when they go a little too far."

Some of the rules already in place dealing with operational security can be brought to bear on the issue of uniformed Canadian bloggers, but the military should really develop a policy so that soldiers know what "a little too far" actually means.

It's not like the CF would have to start from scratch on this issue, either. The PAO's south of the border are wrestling with the same issues - a little further down the road, since they started earlier and there are a few more of them. In fact, HQ Multi-National Corps Iraq laid out guidance for deployed personnel in a memo from April of last year (pdf). Official registration, monitoring at the unit level, and OPSEC are the key points of the policy.

Surprisingly enough, one memo wasn't the end of it, either. The U.S. armed services were at the recent Milblogging conference, which shows a serious level of acknowledgement of the potential - for both good and bad - of milblogs. CF public affairs types, take note:

So - what's the take-away?
  1. Milblogs started because we milbloggers didn't see the good news we knew was there being reported - so, we started reporting it.

  2. They grew, because there were others out there who knew there had to be another view, but they couldn't find it from the MSM.

  3. The services do a crappy job of sharing info with the public. Milbloggers fill this niche.

  4. Milbloggers also nip at the heels of power - which isn't going to stop, so the Generals ought to learn to live with it - because it's the most powerful mostly-friendly voice on the Internet.

  5. OPSEC. No one questions the importance of same. We'd all like a better working definition of same. And - we know the services have people who are reading the blogs watching for it - most of us will entertain polite, reasonable requests to withdraw data. You just have to be able to explain it --- and ask. But the services, especially for the active duty milbloggers, need to develop doctrine and guidance.

  6. A warning for the Generals. Shut 'em all down, and what will be left? The malcontents will blog - anonymously - with no countervailing voice which currently overwhelms the discontented. Which is an expression of the fact that most of the troops are generally satisfied in the big sense with how things are going (we *always* bitch about the details) and the positive voices drown out the unhappy voices. Bring down the Crushing Boot of Doom... and only the malcontents will be left. Think about it, Powers-That-Be. Listen to your PAOs, and not as much to your lawyers and weak commanders who don't like any critical voice, however much else positive comes from those voices. But mostly, listen to your warriors. They have all our best interests at heart.

That's an important enough point that Donovan actually repeats it:

Of course, if they do that, unless they shut down email, blogging will go underground, and the Blackfives, Smash's, ThreatsWatch's, Fourth Rails, and yes, Castle Argghhh!s of the milblogging world will simply post the stories received via other means.

Better to embrace it and understand it than to try to be General Canute, standing at the water's edge, commanding the blogtide to stop. That image was used by one of the on-stage bloggers (I'm thinking Capt B or Mike Fay) as a description of the hubris and futility of such an effort. Of course, Canute was making a point about the limits of power... hopefully one the Generals will heed.

Blogging, public online forums like the invaluable, and secure chatrooms for uniformed personnel are all extremely valuable and powerful uses of technology to drive ideas. And you want to drive those ideas. You want your junior leaders brainstorming on tactical issues - there needs to be a place to do that. You want the public to get a better grip on who you are and what you do - and there needs to be a place for that too.

Letting Matt Austin continue to put undisciplined commentary out there would have been a mistake. But not having good policy that gets out ahead of this burgeoning issue would be a bigger one. Pitter patter folks.

Update: Some sharp advice for uniformed bloggers from The Yankee Sailor. Yes, it's geared to U.S. service members. I don't have access to QR&O's or CFAO's anymore, so I can't customize it for a CF audience. Besides, I'm a profoundly laaaaaaaazy and iiiiiiidle civvie these days. Slack, fat, and happy.

The best advice I've seen boils down to this: if you wouldn't say it through a microphone to a crowd of Taliban insurgents with your assembled unit and CO standing right behind you, then don't post it to your blog. As The Yankee Sailor said, "if there's any doubt, there is no doubt."


Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Babbling: Great post.


3:24 p.m., August 23, 2006  
Blogger Observor69 said...

Well done Babbling. It's all pretty clear if the brass will just get their shit together and pass the word to the troops. Ya got to believe there is some bright lightbulb up top who will soon send the word out as you suggest.

8:11 p.m., August 23, 2006  
Blogger WE Speak said...

Nice job Babbling, but you're no where near as lazy as me. I thought about doing a post like this, but that's all I did - think. :)

This is certainly a good thing for fellow bloggers to continue to highlight and push for a resolution. I'd love to see Canadian Milbloggers able to blog within defined parameters.

8:40 p.m., August 23, 2006  
Blogger Brad said...

Thats to bad, I was really enjoying that.

9:26 p.m., August 23, 2006  
Blogger VW said...

Actually, those regs aren't all that hard to find.

9:41 p.m., August 28, 2006  

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