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Punish the Troops: Ban Facebook in the Military

{Here's a re-post of my latest for the Huffington Post.}

Your high school reunion.

Your best friend's new baby.

Your sister's birthday party.

You'll never see those pictures because you're in the military and the Department of Defense wants to turn off Facebook and Twitter for our troops according to a great story by Noah Shachtman in Wired.

If you want to stay in touch, email isn't good enough anymore. Those pictures aren't being emailed around — they are being shared on Facebook. Facebook is a conversation where you can talk to a lot of people and find out what everyone else is doing. Being stuck without social media is like not being invited to the party — you get to sit home and hope someone sends you a snapshot the next day. You and your grandparents can wait for the weekly phone call from home while the rest of the world moves on without you. Oh, wait — Grandma is on Facebook, too.

Now you're not just shipped off, you're shut off. 

This is much worse for the troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, and at sea who have no other way to connect.

The ban is going to hurt morale. "An Army of One — and We Mean You, By Yourself."  This ban is going to hurt recruiting. "Join The Navy, See The World, And Don't Speak To Your Friends for Six Months At A Time."

On top of this, it's not going to work. Everyone has access to a $99 iPhone, texting, and the web. The Iranian government couldn't stop Twitter. We'll look like idiots for trying.

Social media is not a new security risk. Anyone dumb enough to reveal sensitive data by social media can already do it on the phone and by email. But there is a need to increase training and update policies. This is something we work on with global companies every day at the Social Media Business Council

If the DoD wants to avoid security risks from social media, they need to increase its use. Get everyone familiar with it and train them on proper procedures. Move it underground and you guarantee leaks.

In 1942, Time Magazine took the War Department to task for failing to get mail out on time: "I know for a fact that in the middle of a battle, with stuff dropping all around them, men will put the mail call ahead of the mess call." 67 years later, the issue is the same, only the technology is different.

Support our troops: Let them stay in touch with friends and family.

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Comments

  1. Richard Millington August 5, 2009 at 3:56 am #

    Hi Andy,
    I think you’re both right and wrong. The soldiers need more training in the tools. They need to be aware of privacy settings. They need to know that unlike e-mail/phones, this is mainly one to many tools. You may not know who is reading.
    I also think that if DoD doesn’t feel confident that soliders are adhering to their training, or to the rules, then they shouldn’t allow troops to use the tools. i.e. If you can’t use it right, you can’t use it.
    Because that’s a far more preferable option than sensitive information (locations, equipment or movement news) going out and leading to the deaths of colleagues.
    Banning social media might be bad for morale, but worse than losing colleagues?
    It’s up to the DoD to feel confident in it’s soldiers not to need to ban these tools. That’s a call we need to trust them to make. Until then, soldiers will be in the same situation they were 3 years ago.

  2. Matthew Ray Scott August 5, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    Andy,
    Social media for deployed soldiers (Iraq/Afghanistan) is a problem.
    As a former Army officer deployed to Iraq, I can tell you soldiers will report sensitive information that they don’t always understand is sensitive.
    On the one hand, you want and need soldiers to maintain communication with friends and loved ones, but on the other hand you can’t control it.
    One big problem is the addictive and obsessive nature that social media promotes to our soldiers. You can’t blame them when off-duty to live on social media networks and communicate.
    But…
    … if your own son came home from school and locked himself in his room and did nothing but play on the computer, you would not allow this.
    It’s naive to think that all soldiers who are mature enough to serve in harms way are mature enough to handle the unchecked distribution of online conversation.
    As an Army Commander, I would encourage my soldiers to talk on the phone to loved ones, compliments of Uncle Sam dime, every chance they get, but having a personal blog or commenting on Twitter and Facebook is off limits until you are no longer a service member.
    My viewpoint on this interesting topic.
    Secondly,

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