Leadership in blogging

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Frederick Thaden
  • 75th Mission Support Squadron
The blogosphere is a powerful medium and is growing in readership and creators daily. Just imagine if survivors from the Battle of Gettysburg were able to immediately send their thoughts and first-hand reports to the citizens of a young nation at war. The inter-connectedness which the internet provides humans today makes it possible for Airmen in Iraq to do just that -- post their thoughts and reflections regarding an upcoming or recently accomplished mission, to include pictures and video, on a blog in Iraq. Within seconds this news from the frontlines can be read by thousands if not millions of people worldwide. The blogosphere has spawned debates regarding freedom of speech and presents unique challenges for military leaders. 

What constitutes free speech in a military context has entered a new dimension given recent operations in Iraq and the introduction of the blogosphere. According to John Hockenberry, author of the Blogs of War, Army reservist Jason Hartley was ordered to shut down his blog named Just Another Soldier soon after he posted comments on his blog which caused concern amongst Pentagon officials. Similarly, Maj. Michael Cohen, a doctor formerly based at the 67th Combat Support Hospital in Mosul, described his wartime experience to the world via his blog titled 67cshdocs

One particular account caused concern within his chain of command and the Army asked Cohen to shut down his blog and the satellite network he had personally constructed which was supporting 42 other military families and related blogs. As with Hartley, Cohen decided not to challenge the order. He was too close to returning home and decided to comply. 

Perhaps these are modern day interpretations of what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes referred to as a clear and present danger when he asserted in Schenck v. United States in 1919.  Hockenberry states "The question in every case is whether the words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to cause a clear and present danger ... When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight."

Blogging is a reality and if leaders have not taken the opportunity to learn more, you would do well to experience the blogosphere. Bloggers tend to be young, intellectually savvy, and uninhibited from expressing their points of view. While we encourage open exchanges of ideas, left unchecked, free expression such as this can lead to trouble for Airman and leadership. 

Furthermore, while serving as a deployed leader, it is imperative you understand the appropriate guidelines and policies with respect to blogs. For example, you should know who is actively blogging and you should review the content of their blog for the good of your Airman, unit, and mission. You should be familiar with what acceptable content in a blog is and what the appropriate limits to place on blogging are. 

Understand that in many cases blogging is the Airman's chosen method of connecting with familiar people and escaping the horror of war or the mundane of long deployments. If conducted properly, blogging is healthy and is also a huge boost to morale. However, it is always incumbent on the leader to ensure the troops are aware of and following proper procedures. The Pentagon operational security working group recently published a brochure on the topic which can be viewed at https://www.us.army.mil. 

As with most resources known to mankind, they can be used for productive or destructive purposes. The blogosphere is no different. Anyone with a computer and an internet connection can produce a blog and freely express their thoughts to whomsoever will read. This relatively new capability gives great power to the blogger and leader alike. The critical take-away for military leaders to understand is our speech within the military is limited for sound reasons and the blogosphere simply presents one more method for those limits to be tested, and one more tool for leaders to lead their Airmen.