New Defense Department policy may allow troops to tweet and blog

In the face of a raft of military prohibitions against social networks. a new draft policy recognizes the power of the networks and seeks to balance the risks with the gains. -DB

September 29, 2009
By Noah Shachtman

The Defense Department may allow troops and military employees to freely access social networks — if a draft policy circulating around the Pentagon gets approved, that is.

For years, the armed services have put in place a series of confusing, overlapping policies for using sites like Twitter and Facebook. But a draft memo, obtained by Nextgov, allows members of the military to use Defense Department networks to get on the social media sites — as well as on “e-mail, instant messaging and discussion forums.”

The new policy “addresses important changes in the way the Department of Defense communicates and shares information on the internet,” writes Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn. “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.”

Over the summer, it looked like access to Web 2.0 sites might be banned altogether in the military. U.S. Strategic Command told the rest of the Defense Department it was considering a near-total block on social media, because the sites have become sieves for Trojans and spam. Not long afterward, the Marine Corps banned Web 2.0 sites from its networks. The moves only added to the military’s Web 2.0 confusion. Months earlier, the Army ordered all U.S. bases to provide access to social media. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff set up a Twitter account, which today has more than 7,000 followers.

That prompted Defense Secretary Robert Gates to order the first Department-wide review of how the American military uses the sites. It’s a review that’s not yet complete, cautions Pentagon social media czar Price Floyd. “No decisions have been made,” he tells Danger Room. “The memo hasn’t gone to the leadership yet.”

But a decision is expected shortly, he added — within a matter of weeks. And if Secretary Gates and the Pentagon’s poobahs approve the draft memo, service members finally be allowed to tweet and blog, with the full backing of the U.S. military.

Copyright 2009 Condé Nast Digital