Military Bloggers Wary of New Policy

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Nikki Schwab
Special to washingtonpost.com
Saturday, May 5, 2007; 7:50 PM

President George W. Bush -- appearing via remote broadcast on two large television screens -- on Saturday thanked a roomful of military bloggers in Arlington, Va., for their service to the country.

"America's military bloggers are also an important voice for the cause of freedom," Bush said in the taped message to the group, which was gathered in Northern Virginia for the 2007 MilBlog Conference. "You understand that defeating the terrorists requires us to defeat their ideology of hatred and of death with a more powerful vision, a vision of human liberty."

This compliment came just days after some bloggers lamented that a new U.S. Army regulation might hinder military blogging from combat zones. On April 19, the Army issued Regulation 530-1, an updated policy on operational security that requires soldiers to consult with a commanding officer before posting information in a public forum. Army OPSEC Program Manager Maj. Ray Ceralde told washingtonpost.com Wednesday that the policy would have no effect on blogging.

But Bloggers at the convention remained skeptical.

"It has the potential for great mischief," said blogger John Donovan of a blog called Argghhh!. Donovan said he worried that commanders might interpret the new policy to mean that they have to read every blog post before it goes online. This could swamp commanders to a point where they will no longer allow blogging, he said.

Bloggers only would be required to register their blogs once, according to Ceralde, not to vet every post with commanders. This, though, is a point of contention, according to Donovan and milblogger Matthew Currier Burden of Blackfive.net.

Burden said he talked to several soldiers blogging from Iraq who said they were unsure of how to deal with the updated policy. Describing the policy as badly written, Burden said he and other milbloggers on the home front would try and clear up any confusion.

Ward Carroll, editor of military.com, one of the sponsors of the conference, said the president's willingness to appear via videotape at the conference, along with Rear Admiral Mark I. Fox's appearance via Web cam from Iraq, shows a positive change in how the civilian government and the military are reacting to the milblogging community.

"There have been initiatives, direct outreach to milbloggers," Carroll said. "Again this is evidence of a community that is growing of import and of impact."

Roxie Merritt, director of new media operations at the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, stood up during one of the four panel discussions and offered every blogger her contact information so they could participate in the blogger roundtables her office hosts. These conference calls connect bloggers with high-ranking U.S. military officials.

Blogger Bill Roggio of "The Fourth Rail" said the milblogging community has gotten a lot bigger since their first conference, held in April 2006. "It shows that there is a medium here that has a real influence," Roggio said.

However, Roggio too feared the new Army policy might have done some damage.

"It has a chilling effect," Roggio said.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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