The Pentagon announced late Friday that it has lifted bans on social media sites for military personnel, conceding that the restrictions were outdated and in some ways even counter-productive. The move comes as some branches of military have begun using sites like Twitter to communicate more effectively.
Under the George W. Bush presidency, units of the armed forces such as the Marines placed outright bans on some social media sites. In addition to concerns that it could be a drain on limited broadband resources, the military worried that the frequent and unfiltered flow of written communications could bring up security issues.
However, these sites have become quite the opposite. For example, during the Haiti disaster, US forces involved in the relief used Twitter to post updates. Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has his own Twitter account for everyone to follow (and 16,000 have so far).
"The purpose of the policy is to recognize that we need to take advantage of these Internet-based capabilities. These Web 2.0 tools need to be part of what we use," said assistant defense secretary David Wennergen in a Reuters story. "You can't just have the policy be that you're going to block access to MySpace. Because there are 10,000 ways people could still compromise a mission -- by making a phone call, or sending an email."
The Pentagon said its new approach will be to educate personnel on how to more effectively use social media sites, what can and cannot be shared through these networks, and what situations could arise that would make a temporary suspension of access acceptable.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates also stressed that it is important to get their officers trained in social media, because it will help in recruiting new officers.