Saturday, February 12, 2011

"When I Was One, I Learned to Smell for Explosives"

This blog began six years ago, when it was dedicated to analyzing the rhetoric of e-government, e-learning, and e-business and the inherent contradictions between digital regulation and digital content-creation from which institutional public relations must suffer. The daily stories here eventually formed the material for a scholarly monograph and then contributed to the creation of another book that is in process. But in the last several months the coverage has been much more sporadic, as its once diligent author adjusted to a new post directing the Culture, Art, and Technology program at Sixth College in UC San Diego and cranked out a number of articles more obviously valuable to her c.v.

However, since the very first postings of Virtualpolitik were devoted to mocking the awfulness of government websites under the Bush administration, it only seems appropriate to come out of hiatus by giving some column space to the stunning news that the CIA has a revamped official website that includes a YouTube channel and a Flickr stream. Over the years, the CIA's website has been a particularly spectacular example of good reasons for misgivings about the virtual state, like many secret agencies forced by the Internet to put forward a public face. It began with a fun-filled offering of virtual paper dolls to get tykes excited about both espionage and dress-up. Soon it featured a loveable mascot, Ginger the adorable blue cartoon bear.

In the past the CIA website was so consistently terrible that it won one of my coveted Foley awards in 2006, the "prizes" that I give for the worst examples of official online communication every year. Although it was spared such recognition in 2007, 2008, and 2009, it continued to be a regular runner-up in my mind.

Now that it is 2011, the CIA's revamped version certainly seems to merit a full return to the Foley hall of fame, since it manages to ignore almost every one of my "12 Don'ts."

Sure, you can find CIA Factbooks and Freedom of Information Act documents if you browse the site's "library," but the navigation largely directs citizens to whitewashed institutional advertising rather than serious resources for civic research.

The site includes a dreary Flickr stream of all the bad official photo ops on the director's calendar. Particularly dismal is the CIA YouTube video embedded below, which stars "Bradley" the bomb-sniffing dog, who is voiced by a perky, high-pitched voice actress imitating a pre-pubescent girl. This YouTube canine obviously cast in an attempt to get the views normally devoted to pet antics tells an incoherent version of his life story, which starts with a rushed mention of being raised by Puppies Behind Bars, before launching into an industrial tour of the Langley facility.

Thanks to Jeff Brazil for the link.

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