Is @StateDept’s eDiplomacy Unit Going Slightly Rogue?

by Peter Spiro

Is Syria the next domino?”  That’s an official source asking, the State Department’s e-diplomacy unit, tweeting under the somewhat awkward handle eDipAtState.

Tweets from eDipAtState run the gamut, mostly re-tweets from other sources, but they suggestively tilt towards the next freedom fight.  Iran, Ivory Coast, Zimbabwe, Belarus — these are places were the US is on record as supporting change.  But there is also stuff relating to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, and other places where the US government either supports or is neutral with respect to governing regimes.  (Here’s another one that probably doesn’t jive with the official line.)  The tweets seem pretty clearly to be the product of one hand.  No clearance from Public Affairs or anyone else, since a lot of it is real-time.  (The e-Diplomacy office is not a part of PA at all.  It’s in the Bureau of Information Resource Management, State’s IT arm.)

Other State Department units have their own twitter accounts, some of which are also unsupervised from the center.  The US embassy in Pretoria (USEmbPretoria), for example, has produced almost 20,000 tweets, very little of it the kind of PR pap one might expect.  The focus is on human rights and turmoil elsewhere in Africa, but there have been recent items on China and Iran as well.  This is presumably a young foreign service officer having a little fun.  (PA Assistant Secretary PJ Crowley, meanwhile, has his own twitter account.  The product there is more clearly fine-tuned in the way of talking points.)

Not your grandfather’s kind of diplomacy.  Nothing necessarily wrong with it, presumably a conscious part of “21st Century Statecraft,” and another example of disaggregation.  But I have to wonder if there might be some implications, or at least the possibility of complications.

One Response

  1. Here’s Josh Rogin noting the controversy over PJ Crowley’s tweets, including one comparing the Japan tsunami and the Middle East “tsunami,” since deleted.

    Once people in government get over the coolness factor that was here and gone ages ago for everyone else, will the cutting edgeness still overcome the off-message problems?  I think it’s a rhetorical form with mostly downside for institutions with other mechanisms for getting the word out, and which, for that reason, are expected to be careful in what they say and how they say it.  It invites off the cuff remarks, cute remarks that turn out to be horribly offensive or just wrong, lack subtlety and nuance, and can’t be taken back – what could go wrong?

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