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6/11/2009
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Army Unblocks Some Social Media Sites

U.S. troops within the contiguous United States can now access Facebook, Delicious, Flickr, Twitter, Vimeo, and Web-based e-mail. YouTube and some other sites are still blocked.

There's long been a military-wide ban on access to a number of specific social media sites, and while that still stands, some soldiers will now be able to access other social media sites that had inadvertently gotten caught in the same ban despite not being on the official banned list.

Last month, the 93rd Signal Brigade of the 7th Signal Command, which oversees the Army's communications networks inside the United States, published an operations order that officially allows soldiers to access Facebook, Delicious, Flickr, Twitter, Vimeo, and Web-based e-mail within the contiguous United States.

According to the operations order, this move was to support senior Army leadership goals to use social media to "allow soldiers 'to tell the Army story' and to facilitate the dissemination of strategic, unclassified information." The military has dozens of official Facebook pages, Flickr streams, and Twitter streams.

Before the order, however, there had been no consistent policy allowing access to these sites. Some bases and installations had banned access to them, but in a haphazard manner. "This applies a consistent standard to Web filtering that was missing before," a spokesman for the 7th Signal Command said in an interview.

Sites placed on a block list by superseding order of the Joint Task Force-Global Network Operations remain on the list, including YouTube, MySpace, Photobucket, and Pandora, while the 93rd Signal Brigade remains silent on a few other sites like FriendFeed, Digg, and StumbleUpon. Exemptions for these sites and others have to go through a formal process, beginning with the submission of a request for information to the 93rd Signal Brigade.

The continued blocking is an interesting one by the Army, since the Army Web site itself lists 18 official YouTube channels for spreading Army news. The military has launched an official YouTube knock-off called TroopTube for social video, but even it reportedly has been cut off from access at a number of bases.

Despite the order, it's not clear when it will be fully carried out, and the order gives no timeline for doing so.


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