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Members Tweeting at Their Own Risk

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Pete Hoekstra live-tweeted a Congressional delegation trip to Iraq in 2009. The lack of a social media policy in Congress has raised some concerns about security and privacy.

Other staffers indicated that before a CODEL leaves the country, the State and Defense departments include a rough “outline [of] what you should and shouldn’t be doing in terms of telecommunications” as part of their informational nation briefings, one Congressional aide said.

But an official for the State Department indicated it is deliberately generic when issuing social media guidelines.

“They’re designed to be broad when it comes to social media because we’re looking to use these tools to promote our policy goals, and because the nature of the medium itself,” a State Department official said. “The restrictions that we do have on content are the same as they are in the non-Internet world.

“We’ve made the decision that there is sometimes a tension there but it’s a choice worth making engaging on these platforms because we want to talk with and engage with people in the places where they want to talk with us,” the official added.

But that has not stopped some from questioning the wisdom of sharing too much information. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, Brad Dayspring, used his Twitter account to post loose itineraries, photos of locations and flight paths as he was travelling with his boss on a CODEL last week. Cantor’s office declined to comment for this story, but Dayspring ceased tweeting his personal travelogue and observances from the trip when a Roll Call reporter began retweeting them.

“Everybody just needs to be smart about it, in that our enemies do study our patterns, so you want to be thinking about possible concerns, repercussions — if not for your trip, then for future trips,” the former Defense official said.

It’s a fine line between keeping constituents in the loop and tipping off those who might wish to harm lawmakers traveling abroad.

“From a security standpoint, the risk-reward of getting a news story of what you’re doing, it’s always better to land on the side of the risk and protect your boss, even if means waiting a day to get the news story out,” a Senate aide said.

The Department of Defense declined multiple requests for comment.

But the United States Navy, which often receives Congressional visitors, has its own communications guidelines, which it provides to its own personnel as well as visitors.

“We’ve tried to make that policy the same as it is in personal communications,” Lt. Cmdr. Chris Servello said. “The same way that you wouldn’t relay over the phone future ship activities ... we tell our folks that they shouldn’t do that on social media as well.”

Servello said the guidelines, which discourage communicating information about things such as scheduled movements of Navy assets, Navy personnel or visitors, are an attempt to maintain safety.

Servello stressed that the Navy does not attempt to censor visitors’ communications. Instead, visitors are often encouraged to discuss their experiences on social media platforms as long as they preserve operational security.

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