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10/1/2009
01:37 PM
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner
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Defense Department Loves Social Networking Again

The Defense Department's on-again off-again romance with social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook could be on again big-time if it adopts the policies suggested in a draft memo on "Internet-based capabilities." Troops and their families would be permitted to use public social networking sites, and military brass would be directed to keep an eye on Internet developments to watch for new opportunities and threats.

The Defense Department's on-again off-again romance with social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook could be on again big-time if it adopts the policies suggested in a draft memo on "Internet-based capabilities." Troops and their families would be permitted to use public social networking sites, and military brass would be directed to keep an eye on Internet developments to watch for new opportunities and threats.The draft memo, obtained by Nextgov and posted by the Wired Danger Room blog, is the latest step in a complicated relationship the US military has with social media. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in June identified social media as strategically important, and expressed concern that the U.S. is falling behind in exploiting the services. But the Marines banned social networking this summer, and the Defense Department said it might follow suit.

The memo, written by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn III, is a move back in the direction of embracing social media. "This policy recognizes that emerging Internet-based capabilities offer both opportunities and risks that need to be balanced in ways that provide an information advantage for our people and mission partners," it states. It applies to the public Internet--non-.mil-domain, non-Defense-owned networks and services.

It calls on the Defense Department to "permit and encourage official use" of social networks. "to leverage their potential while managing risk," and also permit "personal, unofficial use" of social media, so long as users don't "claim representation of the Department or its policies, or those of the U.S. government."

Nextgov writes:

The memo comes in the wake an increasing use of social media sites by deployed troops and their families to communicate. But the sites are bandwidth hogs, which interferes with military communications, and their unfettered use by troops in deployed areas raised security concerns. In July 2007, the Defense Information Systems Agency banned access to and use of 13 social working and video streaming sites on Defense networks to preserve bandwidth.

The Marine Corps reinforced on Aug. 3 a longstanding policy against the unofficial use of social network sites on its networks to conserve bandwidth. Lynn ordered a security review on Aug 4.

Some troops and their families expressed concern about the ban on Defense's Web 2.0 Guidance Forum that Lynn's study would result in a ban on the unofficial use of social network tools. But the directive endorsed the use of the sites on Defense's unclassified network known as the Nonclassified Internet Protocol Router Network, or NIPRNET.

And Danger Room says:

[T]he new guidelines would allow servicemembers to use the Defense Department's unclassified networks to hop on everything from "social networking sites" to "image and video hosting websites" to "Wikis" to "personal, corporate or subject-specific blogs" to "data mashups." (That's right: "mashups" are now being discussed at the Defense Department's highest levels.) According to the memo, troops can Facebook or YouTube or Flickr all they want - it doesn't have to be work-related. The servicemembers just can't claim to be officially representing the military or "have an online presence that could be viewed as representing the Department of Defense (e.g., may not use official title, military rank, military identifiers (i.e., e-mail address), or post imagery with their military uniform)." Of course, the servicememebers would also have to comply with pre-existing regulations "regarding responsible and effective use of Internet-based capabilities," too....

The Defense Department's public affairs chiefs would oversee policies for official social media sites. While the military's Chief Information Officers would put together policies for Web 2.0's "use, risk management and compliance oversight," and be on the lookout for "emerging Internet-based capabilities in order to identify opportunities for use and assess risks."

I'm glad to see the military brass taking social networking seriously. The technology presents both great opportunities and great risk. The U.S. military needs to make use of social networking, both officially and as a channel for troops to stay in touch with friends and family at home. But they need to also be mindful of potential dangers.

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