A Message to MilBloggers

Hey milbloggers! We hear you…but we’ve been listening all along.

If you regularly read military blogs (milblogs) you may have noticed that last Wednesday a number of bloggers went silent. The day of blogging silence was intended by participants to bring awareness of incidents of military bloggers undergoing “censorship,” as well as give a glimpse into what life might be like if some of the milblogs that are known and loved stop publishing.

As a huge fan of milblogs – personally and professionally – I do my best to keep up with issues in the milblogosphere. And to be honest, I have to say I wasn’t aware of huge issues among our bloggers. There has been at least one high profile case, but I haven’t been on the grapevine of information about widespread shut downs of military blogs. From my foxhole, I meet new commanders and leaders in our Army every day who openly embrace milblogging in the ranks. Gone are the days when LTG William Caldwell was one of the few champions of engaging the blogosphere. These days everyone from the Secretary of the Army to battalion and brigade commanders across the field aren’t just supportive of blogging – many of them are blogging themselves.

I absolutely admit that there are still areas, and leaders, where blogging in the ranks is not met with open arms. And most of the issues milbloggers have are with their local command, not a headquarters Army action item. We consider our left and right boundaries when it comes to social media engagement and blogging to be the Uniform Code of Justice and Operations Security. Contrary to some opinion, you don’t avoid UCMJ responsibility when you log into the Internet – you’re responsible for maintaining military standards and decorum even online.

And commanders remain free to set localized policy when it comes to social media use by their Soldiers. That doesn’t mean a Soldier’s right to free speech is lost, but it does mean that we hold our military to a higher standard.

So, milbloggers – I hear ya. My phone line and e-mail are always open – let me know if you have questions or concerns. In the meantime, I’m including a few tips on blogging/social media interaction best practices. This isn’t official Army policy or regulation – just some tips and tricks from your favorite blog wrangler.

1. Consider a pseudonym. I know many of you may consider this sacrilegious in this new era of transparency. But if you want to be free to gripe and moan to your heart’s content, if may save you some trouble. Pen names have existed for a long time and they open up artistic freedom, especially for a Soldier. I concur with those who view pen names as a hindrance to authenticity. But I think too many discard the idea without giving it full consideration.

2. Little brother is watching. The military, more so than any other job or place of employment, creates a sense of family. And we all know how the family gets over Christmas when Uncle Bob has had a few too many glasses of eggnog. If you’re a Soldier in our Army – or an Army Civilian – you have to consider how what you write will be looked at by not just your commander, but those in the ranks underneath you, as well. If Private Johnny notes that you just wrote a scathing post about some military issue or that you’re writing things about your personal life that will make it difficult to see you in a professional light, think twice. If the military is a family, try to be sensitive (but not too sensitive – this is the Army, after all) to the feelings of those serving alongside you.

3. Don’t get political. I love politics. But I came to the understanding that when I took a position with the Army, as a government civilian, I needed to avoid too much political speech in my professional interactions – to include posts on my Facebook wall and tweets I send from my personal account. It doesn’t mean I don’t occasionally slip up and let my political leanings show, but it does mean that I’m not going to write any scathing reviews or political statements. It just makes my life simpler.

4. Don’t diss the boss. We’ve probably all read the stories by now of individuals who have lost their jobs because of a Facebook status update or blog post that did not reflect well on their supervisor. It’s just better for our job security that we don’t talk negatively about our boss or other coworkers online. In the military, it’s not just a good idea, it’s crucial to the proper operating of the chain of command.

Okay, now that we’re talking, I love to hear what you have to say. Military bloggers and those who love them or hate them, let us know what you think – we’re listening. And let me know what you think about the tips I outline below – and remember, they’re just ideas and guidelines – not policy. I’d love to see what you’d add or take out.

Lindy Kyzer, Public Affairs Specialist, Online and Social Media Division