Bloggers: If you suddenly find Air Force officers leaving barbed comments after one of your posts, don't be surprised. They're just following the service's new "counter-blogging" flow chart. In a twelve-point plan, put together by the emerging technology division of the Air Force's public affairs arm, airmen are given guidance on how to handle "trolls," "ragers" -- and even well-informed online writers, too. It's all part of an Air Force push to "counter the people out there in the blogosphere who have negative opinions about the U.S. government and the Air Force," Captain David Faggard says.
Over the last couple of years, the armed forces have tried, in fits and starts, to connect more with bloggers. The Army and the Office of the Secretary of Defense now hold regular "bloggers' roundatbles" with generals, colonels, and key civilian leaders. The Navy invited a group of bloggers to embed with them on a humanitarian mission to Central and South America, last summer. Military blogger Michael Yon recently traveled to Afghanistan with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
In contrast, the Air Force has largely kept the blogosphere at arms' length. Most of the sites are banned from Air Force networks. And the service has largely stayed away from the Pentagon's blog outreach efforts. Captain Faggard, who's become the Air Force Public Affairs Agency's designated social media guru, has slowly been trying to shift things. The air service now has a Twitter feed, a blog of its own -- and marching orders, for how to comment on other sites. "We're trying to get people to understand that they can do this," he tells Danger Room.
The flow chart lays out a range of possible responses to a blog post. Airmen can offer a "factual and well-cited response [that] is not factually erroneous, a rant or rage, bashing or negative in nature." They can "let the post stand -- no response." Or they cancan "fix the facts," offering up fresh perspective. No matter what, the chart says, airmen should "disclose your Air Force connection," "respond in a tone that reflects high on the rich heritage of the Air Force," and "focus on the most-used sites related to the Air Force."
Despite the chart's sometimes-stiff language, former military spokesman Steven Field says he's "a fan." Field, who's been occasionally critical of the armed services' blog outreach efforts, tells Danger Room: "I've always thought that a military-like process would be a good bridge to connect the services with the blogosphere. There's a field manual for everything in the military, so this flow-chart presents online communications in a DoD [Department of Defense] friendly format.
One stipulation -- While it should be a guide of communications, it shouldn't become a ball-and-chain. Online comms require some level of nimble, on-your-feet response. As long as the Air Force doesn't use the "evaluate" phase to get approval from every Tom, Dick and Harry in the Pentagon, it should be a good tool.
"Now they just need to lift those damn IP [Internet Protocol] filters," Field adds, so airmen can actually read those blogs that they're supposed to respond to.
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