Sunday, May 16, 2010

Can you still blog if trouble is already your call sign?

You do not often hear it when an FS spouse is pressured to shut down her blog. The blog sometimes disappears, become password protected or simply cease to update. In fact, this sounds so incredibly outrageous it is almost unbelievable.  And if you don't hear it directly from the person who was pressured, of course, it's nothing more than darn rumors. Understandable.

The tigers are not real, unless you've been biten.  Understandable.

But if you've been bitten, how realitistic is it to come back and blog about your nasty experience with the tigers?

If you were the one under pressure, are you going to speak up when trouble is already your call sign?

I think not.  

In stark terms -- written by somebody who knows what he is talking about -- "the fact of the matter, though, is that if the guillotine is hanging over your employee spouse's head, any blogger would blink and shut it down, in real life."  Note, not necessarily the blogger's head. The blogger's loved one's head.

I do not know if you ever get a written warning or an official memo that cites your offense/s when  you cross that invisible "line in the sand" in your blog (read Blogging Rules from Donna of Email from the Embassy). But surely, improved rules for the road in simple English would be a great improvement to the outdated regs now in place (read This Reminds Me from NDS of Muttering Behind the Hardline)?

What if you've been blogging about State furniture and have absolutely no idea that this is a possible security red flag?  On XYZ date, you blogged about Foreign Service housing furniture. That is a possible security infraction. Why? It gives terrorists the info what type of furniture folks get and from which contractor. The evil doers can insert sleeper cells inside those furniture manufacturers. And the next thing you know, five years down the road - silent assassins posing as coffee tables are shipped to official housing overseas, ready to kill with a push of a button.

See why vague guidelines are really bad?

But seriously, you can get in trouble for talking about policy issues, for poking fun at over the top bureau practices, for telling things as they are, for mocking somebody in a higher pay grade atop your pyramid, and for a combination of these and other blahs. If you read the regs, policy, public dissent and anything in the large umbrella of "official concern" can get you in the pickle. But if there is an even larger umbrella than "official concern" that would be the "security" umbrella. The security umbrella which covers a host of things that possibly run for miles on end -- including personal contacts, friendships, who you sleep with the night before, where you shops, where your kids go to school, etc, etc -- can get you in an even hotter pickle.

Anyway, like I said, it is seldom that you hear first hand the pressure on spouses regarding their blogs.  Unless of course, the spouse got out ... and able to tell it as it is without consequences to anyone.

How often does that really happen?

I don't know but I've only been able to find one - one blogger able to speak out and tell it as it is. Please meet Shannon Stamey, ex-Foreign Service spouse from the blog, Disaffected Scanner Jockey:

"I was pressured to shut down my blog in 2006. I was in Sarajevo, and post management informed me that I could not have a blog that was in any way critical of the State Department. Mind you, this wasn’t because I was a State employee in my own right. That would have been intrusive, but understandable. But as a spouse of a Foreign Service Officer, I was not permitted to have opinions, nor was I permitted to broadcast them online. Asking me to stifle my voice attacked the very core of who I am."

Read more here.

As you may or may not know -- when you join State, the Foreign Affairs Manual governs your life and your family's but real people often interprets the FAM. And that's where it can get tricky.  I doubt if post management in Sarajevo would have been able to point to the exact FAM citation that says an FS spouse is not allowed an opinion of her own.

Of course, that usually doesn't stop anyone from trying. 


hannah said...

Worlds collide... Shannon's a good friend! We've talked about this topic a lot. It's a real shame.

Jill said...

Wow - I really enjoyed the link to the ex-FS spouse's blog. Her article was DEAD on!! I could relate to everything she wrote.

I've noticed that there is a slight difference in how people write based on how long they've been on with the FS... oftentimes because of their depth and breadth of experience.

For me, I don't ever worry about my blog being shut down... though I say that with the caveat that like Donna, I wouldn't write anything that I wouldn't / couldn't say in front of my husband, my family, my husband's employer. I also know that the CG and his spouse know about my blog, as do most others here at post. BUT, I'm honest in my feelings and experiences - to everyone... I don't live behind rose colored glasses. I chalk it up to my disclaimer...

But it's more than that. As an FS spouse it can be a lonely, lonely world... especially if you're at a post that doesn't offer the same modern day conveniences as others. Some people like me use their blog as their online journal for the family and friends... Some use it as a way to blast others. Most of us use it as a way to connect with other FS people ... to compare notes, to see what others are doing, to build friendships. I live a long long way from family and friends - this blogging community is sometimes what helps get me through a tough situation / a horrible day.

Interesting topic... interesting discussion!

Shannon said...

Hi! Thanks for the link - Hannah sent it along. It's amazing that a three-year-old post still gets traffic!

Ultimately, the State Department wasn't for me. I've never cared what anyone thought of me, so I hated being in an insular environment where I had play a role and 'fit in', because the other option was to damage my husband's career (and, of course, I was financially dependent on him!). It was emotionally draining.

I wrote the post not as someone with an ax to grind, but as somebody who, because they had already walked away and had nothing to lose, could be completely forthright about the drawbacks and challenges.

Anyway, thanks for the link!

NoDoubleStandards said...

Wow. Good post and great link. Hadn't seen it before.

hannah said...

It's Friday, time for the weekly State Department Blog RoundUp - and you're on it!

Here is the link:

(If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me at stateroundup2.0 {at}