In social media’s ongoing expansion beyond the tech-oriented and internet-savvy, the Department of Defense (DoD) continues to struggle to find its role. As Noel Shachtman of Wired.com writes in today’s Danger Room article “Military May Ban Twitter, Facebook as Security ‘Headaches’,” the DoD may prevent access to certain social media sites from its internal networks (secure and nonsecure—see the article for specifics and links to Wikipedia).
This potential ban comes at an interesting time for a number of reasons. First, as the article mentions, the DoD is preparing to launch a new website with a focus on social media. Second, on May 18 of this year, the Army directed its network operators to provide access to five popular social media sites effective May 22, while simultaneously blocking access to 12 other sites (see the Danger Room article “Army Orders Bases to Stop Blocking Twitter, Facebook, Flickr” from June 10, which includes the full text of the Army order). Third, as Mr. Shechtman alludes to, various departments and individuals within the DoD are using social media for a variety of reasons.
With the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (http://twitter.com/TheJointStaff) and USForces Afghanistan (http://twitter.com/usfora) on Twitter, among other DoD officials and commands, blocking access could potentially disrupt what has become a useful tool for both disseminating information and recruiting new soldiers. It becomes an even more critical problem when one considers those soldiers now using the services to keep in touch with family and friends. As the Army order concerning Iraq demonstrates, the interest is only in those services used to keep in touch and share information. None of the popular video sharing or music sites are accessible in Iraq, largely for bandwidth concerns. Should the Army move forward with this decision, it may create more headache than concerns it resolves.
For many of the individuals and departments using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, denying them access via the internal DoD network means they will need access to a “dirty” computer, as the Wired.com article describes terminals with access to the internet the rest of us use. As a result, DoD will be forced to place secure and unsecure terminals in proximity to each other. After all, Admiral Mike Mullen still needs access to the secure DoD network when he’s not twittering.
Undoubtedly, Danger Room will follow up on this story, and I’d be interested to see how this develops. With a brother in the Army, Facebook is one of the few ways we have to keep in touch.