According to Wired Magazine, The U.S. Marine Corps has banned social media sites, effective immediately.
The official word on the ban is that it is a result of network security concerns, as opposed to any breaches in information dissemination by soldiers.
U.S. soldiers stationed overseas have been using Facebook, Twitter and MySpace to stay in touch with family and friends over the past several years. To-date there have been no reports of any serious breach of security in terms of locations, plans, or details that could put our armed forces in harm’s way.
Some sample tweets from U.S. military personnel serving in the Middle East:
“Boring day today! The enemy must have run out of bombs and bullets, (ha ha). Seriously it’s nice and quiet in Mosul, Iraq.”
“Dismounted Patrol to a VBIED location from last week to assess the cleanup and rebuilding progress, and more Iraqi Army training.”
“Another fun filled day in Iraq, today I will be training the Iraqi Army on how to search for evidence. It’s going to be a huge challenge!”
“Surprise Health & Welfare inspection kicking off. That means senior NCOs go thru all your stuff looking for contraband.”
“Here at Camp Victory! got a few days until time for me to get to my final destination!!”
According to official reports, the military isn’t concerned about the content of tweets or FB updates, but are more concerned about the potential for terrorists to hack into these soldiers’ sites. Late last year, the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Huachuca in Arizona released a draft report outlining how Twitter could be used as a tool for terrorists. The report warned that terrorists could use Twitter via their cell phones to send and receive messages and to locate fellow cell members through links to Google Maps.
Terrorists – they say – could also use Twitter to find U.S. troops and elicit information from their profiles, leading to identity theft, hacking or physical abuse of soldiers if they were tracked down. The growing number of applications available on cell phones and the increased ease with which people may use services like Twitter and Facebook can exacerbate traditional information-sharing problems such as confidentiality, cultural sensitivity and accuracy.
Still, some of the Pentagon’s highest ranking officials continue to use Web 2.0 tools. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has 4,000 followers on Twitter. The Department of Defense is getting ready to unveil a new home page, packed with social media tools. The Army recently ordered all U.S. bases to provide access to Facebook and top generals now blog from the battlefield.
The Marines say they will issue waivers to the Web 2.0 blockade, if a “mission critical need” can be proven. And they will continue to allow access to the military’s internal “SNS-like services.” But for most members of the Corps, access to the real, public social networks is now shut off for the next year.
There are several private SNS for soldiers to share information with each other. CompanyCommand is a password-protected Web portal that connects junior Army officers so they can exchange knowledge and experience directly, without going through the traditional chain of command. After threatening to shut down the site, the military adopted the service as a professional development tool in 2002.
Meanwhile, Army PR employs Web 2.0 on a regular basis to communicate the military’s key messages. Colleen Graffy, former deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, used Twitter on trips to Romania, Moldova, Iceland, Croatia and Armenia to introduce herself to foreign audiences before she arrived.
And, in PR efforts at home, Graffy uses Twitter to inform Americans about embassies’ public diplomacy programs in a peppy, informal and personal manner, as she explained in an op-ed to The Washington Post last December. “To keep our public diplomacy relevant today, we have to reach out and connect with people on their terms, whether we use blogs or texts—or tweets,” Graffy said.
In the meantime, it looks like soldiers will need to resort to secure calls and government-sanctioned email and snail mail to stay in touch with their families from now on.