Army needs Social Media help…from civilians?

June 9, 2011

Today, there was a great article in Wired.  It was about the Army’s proposal to hire Social Media experts for Afghanistan operations.  This was not a Wikileak; it is a real request for proposal for civilian public relations experts.  (The request is also for well-qualified Dari and Pashtu speakers to participate in the Social Media mission–thumbs up to getting strong linguist for this program.)

I guess I shouldn’t be totally surprised.

Heck, you can read about the Department of Defense spending $384.4 million on Strategic Communications in 2011 or about the billion plus spent on Information Operations for the past few years in a report by the Center for International Media Assistance.  For those keeping score…$384.4 million is enough dough to pay tuition for 50,000 high school graduates to attend college this fall.  The Politico reported that the DOD actually requested $988 million for communications funding for 2010…it didn’t pass.

The reason why this Afghanistan Social Media decision pains me so much is because the minimum qualifications that the Army is looking for–bachelor’s degree and Secret security clearance— is equal or even less than the qualifications of the 150+ public affairs officers we have on active duty.  And of those public affairs officers, several of them have earned Army-funded graduate degrees from top schools like Georgetown the official grad school for Army public affairs officers, UNC-Chapel Hill, Middle Tennessee State, and USC’s Annenberg School. And we even send officers and sergeants to work at Google each year.

Are none of them good enough to run a Social Media program in Afghanistan?  Heck, who’s running these seemingly successful sites right now?  See them here, here, and here.

If you’re still reading this post you’ve probably come to conclusion that I’m courageous or crazy…perhaps both.

Don’t get me wrong here, I agree there is a great need for continued investment in online communications and engaging audiences domestic and international through Social Media. I just think this should be done by training people already in uniform to accomplish these goals.  Really, by the time most photos, tweets, and blog posts are approved by the layers of strategic communications folks at big headquarters in Kabul, Baghdad, Kandahar, it’s a bit too late or too far removed from much of the populace we are trying to influence–many of them are illiterate or don’t have access to the internet.  Meanwhile, the terrorists and Taliban types are able to cause mayhem and make it go viral because they post from the point of origin–often on mobile phones.Soldiers online

I propose the Army purchases smart phones and commercial internet for their public affairs staffs at the brigade combat team level and arm them with the same communications tools as the terrorists.

Last time I checked, a 3G iPhone runs about $200 $49.  If you bought one for every 100 troops in Afghanistan (about one per company-sized unit), the total costs would be about $200,000  $49,000 + usage plans.  The troops already know how to use smart phones & Facebook.  After developing a policy for what to post and battle drills for when to post, I assure you a positive and tangible impact will be made in our information war.

Where there’s no cell coverage…use a Bgan antenna.

Ideally, we’d shift to training more Afghan journalists so they can tell the story of their country and of their security forces through their own lens.  Developing skills for local reporters should be long-term goal.

Well, I’ve said my $0.02.  I’m not critical of the mission, just the method.  I believe we have people, Soldiers & Department of the Army Civilians, who are ready, willing, and able to accomplish the communications goals for the Afghan War.  As an added bonus, after Army folks complete this task they will retain the experience for future operations.  Seems like a cent-sible solution to me.

Honest two-way communication is the best to build relationships and influence people.  I believe in the Defense Information School’s motto:  Strength through Truth

I figure I can’t get fired for this post, however, I might just get orders to Afghanistan. I’m ok with that.

DISCLAIMER:  Views expressed here are the authors own and not necessarily the views of the Army or Department of Defense. Nor is the post an official statement of the U.S. Army.  Just one guys opinion.

Blogging in Mozambique

July 14, 2008

Quick Trivia:  What’s the name of currency in Mozambique?  Read on for answer…

Flag of Mozambique

Flag of Mozambique

Mozambique is the 35th largest country in the world and is located in Southeastern Africa.  Portuguese is the official language of Mozambique and is primarily used by bloggers there.

There are several English language blogs related to Mozambique:

  • Fresh Prince of Mozambique is a new blog maintained by an employee of the Peace Corps who is spending a few years in Mozambique.  He provides excellent descriptions of life in a village from an American perspective.

Speaking of goats, the other day I was forced to hold my pee because a goat had found iots way into our outdoor bathroom. I didnºt want to be rude to I waited for him to finish.  -Fresh Prince

  • Bloggers Alex and Kory are former Peace Corps workers who have posted several photos of their experiences in Mozambique in 2006-2007.
  • Another Peace Corps veteran, Alex, blogs about her experiences teaching in Mozambique.  One of her most engaging post is a compilation of essays written by 8th Graders about their losses in Cyclone Jokwe.
  • More interesting Peace Corps bloggers are here, here, here, and aggregated here (disregard the dates listed at link).

There are also a few blogs from Mozambicans that have been translated from Portugese to English:

a bit of everything: sociology (specially rapid-intervention sociology), philosophy, day-to-day, profundity, superficiality, irony, poetry, fragility, strength, myth, exposure of myths, emotion and reason -Carlos Serra

Final thought:  Every source I could find, cites internet usage in Africa at less than 4% of the world’s internet usage vs. 14.3% of the world’s population.  However, it is growing by over 1,000% each year.  Therefore, I expect more indigenous blogs in the future.  Oh and about that Mozambique money, it’s called the New Metical. Oh yeah, did you notice their national flag has an AK-47 on it?!

WE THE MEDIA: Citizen Journalist photographs black squirrel in Georgetown

June 9, 2008

Black squirrel checks out the bike rack at the Georgetown library.We the Media by Dan Gillmore discusses how citizen journalist and bloggers are reducing the stranglehold corporate media has on how information is distributed in America.

Frugal people like me keep their cell phones far past the devices life-expectancy.  Then one day they just don’t work anymore.  Next we’re forced, by necessity, to upgrade to a new version–with new bells & whistles.  Frequently the new phone incorporates a camera and the ability to access the Internet.

One evening during the fall semester, I saw a black squirrel while walking to class.  I was near the intersection of 33rd and Prospect.  The squirrel darted out from behind a fence and stared at me.  Just as I unsheathed my Palm Centro phone, the camera-shy creature ran back behind the fence.

I told my story to a few classmates who’d never seen a black squirrel.  My tale of the black bushy-tailed rodent fell on deaf ears.  But, today, with this blog post, I’m vindicated.  Why?  Because, I’m a citizen journalist!  I also find it a bit odd that corporate media hasn’t reported on these creatures in over three years…hmmm…  He’s my first report…

(Washington, DC)  In a city normally known for it’s cuddly Panda bears at the national zoo, Georgetown residents have a rare creature of their own.  A common rodent with uncommon coloring:  the black squirrel.

While walking to the Georgetown University library, Majorman, a graduate student, spied the swarthy acorn eater near a bike rack.  Acting swiftly he approached the elusive beast and snapped a photo.

When asked for comment, Majorman says, “This was one of the most interesting sightings of my life.  It ranks right up there with the checkered patterned Praying Mantis I caught in Iraq.”  He added, “Unlike the Mantis capture, this time I had my camera.”

If you’ve seen any strange animals in your neighborhood or are a citizen journalist, please leave a comment.