The U.S. Military and Social Media Access

The Web is a “twitter” with new announcements concerning the U.S. military and social media access. From the news that the Marine Corps is shutting down access to social networking sites, to talk of a debate between the Department of Defense and U.S. Strategic Command concerning blocking all access, one could gather that the days of even being able to read Army Live from your government computer could soon be at a close. I prefer to remain optimistic, and also believe that the Department of Defense does look into issues like this with more temperance than one might surmise from much of the coverage.

The U.S. Army has been pressing forward with opening up access but it hasn’t been done without thought toward the security risks that do arise with any collaborative platform. The popularity of social networking sites and sheer volume of information posted and traded can send shudders down the spines of any Signal Company Soldier or network security expert. But many of those security experts realize that a collaborative Web is the new reality. Soon you’ll be hard pressed to find any site on the World Wide Web that isn’t implementing Web 2.0 tools and technology.

As a public affairs operator living in the Web 2.0 world, I’d love to see access to all social networking sites, on every government computer out there. But, I’m a realist, rather than an optimist, and understand that we live a careful balance between wanting our Soldiers to tell their story (read that again – yes, we want our Soldiers to tell their story) and between needing to keep Operations Security (and therefore, our network’s security) paramount. I think we can balance both. Yes, Admiral Mullen, you can still Twitter. There is simply a chance that if some people get their way, you won’t be able to do it from your government computer. But it boils down to network security, not fear that Soldiers aren’t responsible enough to manage themselves in a public forum, or a method of punishing the heroes who are fighting for our freedom.

Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have already been battling the issue of access to their work computers for years. When we talk about the U.S. Army opening up access, it doesn’t mean that every computer in Kabul can now scan the web for Flickr photos – it applies mostly to installations in the United States. Our Soldiers have been working around the access issues – and will continue to do so – regardless of whether or not we don’t have access at our work computers. So, again, I want open access. But, I also want a lively debate that takes into consideration the security concerns but balances them with the need to do our jobs to tell the Army’s story in every platform and via every tool available.

I’m glad the media and many of my favorite bloggers are weighing in on the issue of social media access and the military. Let’s keep the debate going, and continue to push forward to do the best thing for our men and women in uniform. Which, I hope we can agree, is the central concern for folks on every side.

What do you think about the issue of social networking access and the military? Let us know in the comments section.

-Lindy Kyzer, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, Online and Social Media Division