Quote of the day/week/however long

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

Monday, February 16, 2015

Who Is Watching the Children?

  Once upon a time, Madam sat on a panel with the post's RSO, consulting doctor, and other pertinent officers and officials to address a gathering of newly-arrived Amcit residents in the district. It was an annual orientation, taken seriously by the local US Chamber of Commerce, the American school, and others who had professional or personal interest in the well-being of these new arrivals.

At one point in the RSO's presentation on how to call for assistance in police, medical or fire emergencies, he said, "And, of course, you'll want to learn enough of the local language to get the help you'll need."

The room erupted with at least a dozen scornful snickers.

Madam sincerely hopes that those who expressed such disdain for simple survival did, after all, survive. And she hopes that the annual orientation at that post has continued, with one critical addition.

The advent of the internet - and the Department's sputtering, semi-scizophrenic responses to it's employees' or their dependents' use of it - has raised a new specter, one even more terrifying than Madam's expressions of opinion (although those seem to have been terrifying enough). That specter is happy, homey blogs with titles such as "Our Year in Yerevan" "The Smiths Take On Santiago" "Jacked About Jerusalem" and the like, which are written by spouses with time on their hands and an even weaker sense of safety than those family heads who laughed at the idea of learning a hundred words that might save their and their children's lives. Now that 3 FAM has been driven, snapping and snarling, into a cage, these FS and civilian spouses can safely ....

Ah. But there's the problem, isn't it? They can blog. They can post freely to Facebook. But in the heady joy of blogging and Facebooking they may be placing themselves and their families in more jeopardy than any lack of language could.

With photographs.

Such blogs and FB postings can be freely accessed by friends and loved ones anywhere the world. And by anyone, anywhere in the world or two blocks away, who might consider doing harm to America or, as the country's proxy, any individual American. This ambassador has a bodyguard. Good. Do his sons and his daughter? And now the world knows what they look like.

 Got a grudge against the businessman who didn't hire you, against the president, against the US in its totality? Against the West? Against the world? Here are some potential soft, easy targets for your anger: their names, their relationships, their current color photographs, their car, and their front steps.

 Madam is delighted that these ladies enjoyed their shopping trip. So, perhaps, is the cousin of the man who owns the pottery store; a cousin who was refused a visa last week by one of the  husbands and he doesn't really care whose. And now he has a photograph from which he can choose the easiest target.

WTF would a loving parent be thinking, to direct a camera at these precious babies at an unguarded overseas school, then post those photos for the entire world to see, perhaps to memorize, to print and slip into a pocket, to stalk, to snatch, to gut? There are wolves out there...

Wolves that, if they can't get you, will do far worse. They will get him.

So please seriously ask yourselves and ask your Amcit residents, who is watching the children? And who else?

PS: due to the number of complaints in the comments, Madam clarifies: except for the first photo, none of these samples are taken from actual Amcit blogs. They were located via a standard Google Image search without "American" in the criteria. Which might serve as a caution in itself; the internet reaches much father than we sometimes imagine.


12truck said...

Thank you for highlighting this potentially deadly issue. Some very, very basic common sense that is stunningly absent among many of those deployed. I've seen videos in which people show their homes and their routes to work or other places without the vaguest thought of their own personal security, the security of their dependents, co-workers, servants or anyone else. State's education in this area is apparently shamefully lacking and makes the RSO's job an almost impossible tasking. I hope it doesn't take a kidnapping, bombing, take-over or some other tragedy to get the right peoples’ attention. Give Diplomatic Security, MSGD’s and other agencies responsible for embassy/force protection the cooperation they deserve. Why has this support not been available since Colin Powell’s tenure?

Anonymous said...

Madam Consul, I am so deeply pleased that you are blogging again. Your blog was crucial to reassuring me of the humanity of the Foreign Service as I applied and I went through the process of becoming an FSO. However, I respectfully disagree with you on this issue.

The danger of sharing photos of our kids on social media is one that my spouse and I have spent a great deal of time debating within our home. However, there is danger everywhere. Danger in bringing my kids to malaria zones (both of malaria and the long term effects of prophylactics on infants). Danger in living in countries where we can't use public transportation (for a variety of reasons, depending on the country). Danger in enrolling our kids in international schools which may or may not be well hardened targets. Danger in having only on street parking in front of our house, making our diplomatic plates (and thus, who lives in the house) visible signals to anyone who walks by.

Should we cower in fear? Password protect our blogs, or worse, not share any personal information online at all? Should I not ever make a joke at my gym about my neighborhood? Take a cab with my kids for fear that the driver was recently refused a visa (true story!)? Have groceries delivered?

Of course not. That is the worst sort of victim blaming. The kind that tells women to wear long skirts and drink less and don't go walking alone at night, because if something happens to her, well, it's HER FAULT.

Parents make calculated risks every day, in the Foreign Service and out. The threat of kidnapping and violence varies from post to post, and it's disingenuous to paint all blogs that share personal photos with the same broad brush. Of course parents should be smart about sharing personal information online and off. We all should be. But that's not the same as saying that the wolves will descend on our small family if we don't.

Nomads By Nature said...

I've enjoyed reading your blog and am glad you are back. I must say, though, that I am disappointed that you chose to make your point of photos in blogs as a security concern by reposting blog photos and shaming those individuals.

wellthatwasdifferent.com said...

You bring up a legitimate issue but I can't agree with your methods. I would not personally post a photo of anyone in a mission community who had not given me permission to do so, and that goes double for kids. But you just did.

You make other points which reflect some ignorance about the situation of spouses overseas. Some of us have time on our hands. Now, why is that? Could it be the employment situation at post, which (among other obstacles) includes insanely lengthy security clearance times for a limited number of mostly clerical jobs which pay peanuts?

Could it be that many of us have decided that life is too short to spend it fighting that battle? And that a blog is great way to share the things we do that ARE interesting, rewarding, and the payoff for putting up with life as an FS spouse?

Could it be that spouses have not been able to learn the local language due to work, kids, lack of "space availability" in FSI classes, or total inflexibility of language training options? What do you think?

Or have you actually thought about any of this at all?

The next time you tackle an important issue on your blog, I hope that you can do so without sloppily caricaturing not only the FS blogger community, but all the spouses and partners of FS employees who do so much and receive so little in return. Including, far too often, some basic level of respect.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but this is a tasteless post. By reposting these photos, you yourself have committed the very crime you're accusing others of. Furthermore, not all overseas posts are created equal. Danger lurks in some but not all. And this life would not be tolerable if FS families cut themselves off from relatives and friends and lived constantly in fear. Shootings are happening more and more in American schools. Do you suggest all parents keep their children home? This post struck me as click bait, and not considering the realities and nuances of real life. Yes, bloggers should pay attention to what they post and consider that anyone could access it. No, they should not withstand from posting anything about their families at all.

mattvtom said...

@Anon 10:57: Well said -- saved me typing out much the same. Why join the foreign service if you're afraid of the world? There is ultimately an important difference between thoughtful risk management and knee-jerk risk avoidance.

I've apprecieted this blog's perspective on other things, but we're definitely not on the same page on this one...

Daniela said...

Personal blogging is a personal decision and so is posting pictures ( personal or otherwise). To judge people who have decided, usually after serious thinking, to blog and post personal pictures is not cool. Bad things can happen anywhere - overseas and in the U.S. Different people blog for different reasons but the FS blogs I happen to like present the human face of the FS and are very informative to people considering the lifestyle, the post etc., especially the pictures. Frankly, I find blogs without pictures a lot less informative. I do think bloggers should be careful but careful means different things to different people. Who are we to judge?

Madam le Consul said...

Madam appreciates all opinions, and welcomes disagreement but not insults, veiled or otherwise.

None of the photos in this post came from actual FS blogs: they were chosen at random from a Google Image search that did not include "American" in the search criteria. Only the first photo includes actual Americans. Which, perhaps, might serve as a warning in itself: internet photos travel much, much father than we sometimes imagine they will.

As for "Could it be that spouses have not been able to learn the local language due to work, kids, lack of "space availability" in FSI classes, or total inflexibility of language training options? What do you think?" Madam thinks that it does not require linguistic fluency to be able to say "Help! Fire!" and recite an address.

Anonymous said...

I am not surprised but am disappointed in some of the responses to this excellent post. To write "there is danger everywhere," list the dangers that the adults in the family already know their children are exposed to, then deliberately add one more that is completely optional and unnecessary (If Grandma can open a blog, she can open an email) is cavalier and irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons the Department hires the FSOs it does is that it thinks they have good judgement. Looks like they might have slipped sometimes. Maybe these parents have no problem with the idea that their children's photos are seen not only by their family and friends but also by a world sprinkled with pedophiles and terrorists. As for my family, that's one risk we are not interested in taking.

Anonymous said...

Mixed feelings about your approach here, but I like that you called out so many of these fluffy and worthless blogs for being what they are. Please you-know-who-you-are bloggers, stop portraying the Foreign Service as non-stop fun and wacky foreign adventures. You are not an expat!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with Madame.