Many law firms and other companies specifically prohibit their employees from using social media. The reasons should be obvious: social media use is inherently reckless and unacceptably risky for professionals and those with high profile jobs. This is especially, and I would say fatally true of Twitter. It is an accident waiting to happen, and the more powerful the user, the more damage the accidents will be.
The latest example is the saga of Richard Stegel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. He used his personal Twitter account yesterday to comment on the crisis triggered by the downed airliner in the Ukraine, prefaced the tweet with the State Department’s Twitter handle, and ended it with the hashtag #UnitedForGaza, which would appear to indicate his support of the Palestinians in its violent clash with Israel.
This is disturbing and diplomatically harmful for several reasons:
- It is not, at least publicly, the position of the State Department. Stegal’s boss, John Kerry, was on the Sunday shows this morning unequivocally laying the blame for the conflict at the feet of Hamas.
- Stegal position means that he is responsible for coherent and consistent public messaging, not the contradictory variety that encourages distrust and disbelief.
- The hashtag could be, and has been, interpreted as support for terrorism.
- Stegal has a history of anti-Israel rhetoric, even if the hashtag was an error in this instance.
Naturally, knee-jerk critics of the Obama Administration assumed that the sentiment expressed in the tweet was intentional; reflex defenders of everything Obama assumed that it was an honest mistake, arising from Twitter autofill turning a “#UnitedforUkraine,” which was included in his previous tweet, into a “#UnitedForGaza.” I have no idea: neither explanation makes sense. Why would Stegal place #UnitedForGaza after a tweet about Malaysia Airlines Flight 17? Then again, why would Twitter assume he wanted #UnitedForGaza? I’ll accept that it was an error, but it doesn’t matter. The incident shows why it is irresponsible for an official like Stegal to be on Twitter at all. Nothing good can come of it, only bad.
The evidence of this is everywhere, from the seemingly lawless tweets of Democratic members of Congress (or more likely their staffs) advocating open borders, to the fake tweets under President Obama’s name that range from fatuous to dishonest, to Michelle Obama’s troubling frowny-face tweet in support of the kidnapped Nigerian girls ( it didn’t seem to help much, either, since they are still missing), to the latest nauseating development, the CIA tweeting deathless information like the trivia that “It would take 33,707,520 soccer balls to reach from DC to Rio.” Whatever it costs taxpayers to send out tweets like this, it’s too much.
What the government does is complex, and those in power already seek to simplify it to the point of cretinism so the public either doesn’t know what’s going on, wrongly assumes that what is happening is being handled competently, or is misinformed. 140 characters are enough to deceive, but not enough to inform, and the danger of diplomatic and other gaffes caused by unfiltered access to the public far, far outweighs any conceivable benefits.
The responsible policy would be to ban Twitter for all government employees, or if that seems too broad, at least all highly placed officials.
(Even if such a policy might have meant that Anthony Weiner would now be the Mayor of New York City….)
Pointer and Spark: Instapundit
Sources: PJ Tatler