DoD Loosens Social Media Restrictions

Soldiers and other Department of Defense employees may now access and use sites such as Facebook and Flickr via unclassified Defense networks.
Soldiers and Defense Department employees will now be able to access Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media sites on the military's unclassified network, according to new policy issued this week.

That word came in a long-expected memo issued Thursday by deputy secretary of defense William Lynne, months after draft policy leaked ahead of an expected release date in October and seven months after a review of DoD policy on social media was announced in late July.

The DoD has an active official social media presence across the Internet already, with at least 46 YouTube channels, 91 Twitter feeds, 35 Flickr streams, 46 blogs, 106 Facebook pages and a smattering of other pages on other social media services.

"Not only are service members using these tools to communicate with their friends and family, but people are also using them to do their jobs better and even to collaborate with mission partners and people outside the organization," DoD deputy CIO Dave Wennergren said in an interview.

In June of 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen testified to the power of social networking, with Mullen acknowledging that he has his own a Facebook page.

In many ways, however, the military has, until now, had a complicated relationship with social media. About the same time as Gates and Mullen made those comments, for example, the Army decided to unblock a few social media sites, but only a minute number of them and only in the U.S.

The Marines have until now largely banned use of public social networking sites. Soldiers' blogs from war zones, likewise, have long been subject to heavy oversight.

The new policy doesn't come without limitations, permitting only "limited personal use when authorized" and requiring both that users put "sound" security measures in place and take care not to seem like they are representing the official position of the DoD if they are using social media for personal purposes.

Furthermore, the DoD CIO and others will be responsible for coming up with policy and implementation guidance to manage risk and compliance, including possible training and monitoring of use.

Official social media presences must be approved by an agency head, be registered on an official list of external sites, use official DoD seals and logos, indicate that they are official, link to the organization's official Website, and be monitored for compliance with "security requirements for fraudulent or objectionable use."

While deputy CIO Wennergren played up social media's potential, he also cautioned that its use must take place in "a world of secure information sharing," a phrase he often uses to note the delicate balance between security and open collaboration. He noted that commanders may still take steps to safeguard their networks in certain situations, such as during a cyberattack and before sensitive missions, which may interfere with social media access, and that education will play a key role in ensuring that soldiers use social media properly.

The Defense Department's Social Media Hub plans to host more "educational materials" on the policy as they become available.