Afghan Hands – The Blog

A little over a week ago, I made a return visit to the ISAF webpages to poke around. It looks like some changes have been in the works. The website, which was pretty static before, is all swish now, and comes equipped with a social media dashboard in the footer where readers can subscribe to Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr (but no Twitter) feeds. It’s also got a new Afghan Hands blog, which carries “updates from Leaders and Troops across Afghanistan”.

So far, though, it looks like ISAF has only partially embraced the vigorous public diplomacy ethic espoused by NATO SecGen Anders Fogh Rassmussen and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral Jim Stavridis. Judging by the  content of the few posts that are already up at Afghan Hands, ISAF is using this as essentially press-release-by-another-name, which is completely redundant, not to mention unnecessary: officially sanctioned, edited, and command-vetted information can be and is readily pushed to the web in other formats, and pushing it as blog content when it’s not doesn’t add credibility. If anything, in the realm of social media, it demonstrates limited understanding of appropriate and convincing uses of such technologies. There’s also no date-time stamp on individual entries, which is a small point but just as fundamental, and bad practice in any domain of publishing, whether it’s public affairs/public information, blogging, intelligence, or what have you.

To my note to ISAF Public Affairs suggesting that a date-time stamp would be really helpful, no reply. I’m going to assume for now that these are all just growing pains, and that the wrinkles are still being ironed out. NATO and ISAF are in a position to make the Afghan Hands blog a welcome and authoritative hub for information and discussion. It would be disappointing, to say the least, if they don’t make the most of an otherwise golden opportunity – and more than a little ironic, given recent arguments from MGen Mike Flynn, the ISAF intelligence chief, that intelligence analysts could stand to learn a few things from real world journalistic practice. Stay tuned.

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