The U.S. Marine Corps on Monday banned social media Web sites Facebook, Twitter and MySpace from its computer networks.
In an announcement, the Marines said the ban is necessary because "these Internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries." The ban is initially in effect for one year.
In contrast, the U.S. Army has taken steps to further embrace social media. The Army regularly updates the public with its own Facebook fan page, Twitter account and Flickr photos.
In May, the Army ordered all U.S. bases to provide access to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and others in order to "support the intent of senior Army leaders to leverage social media as a medium to allow soldiers to 'tell the Army story' and to facilitate the dissemination of strategic, unclassified information."
According to Wired magazine, the Marines' decision was in response to a U.S. Strategic Command warning in July that it was considering banning social media sites from the entire Department of Defense unclassified network. STRATCOM cited network security concerns as the reason for the possible military ban.
"The mechanisms for social networking were never designed for security and filtering," an unnamed STRATCOM source told Wired. "They make it way too easy for people with bad intentions to push malicious code to unsuspecting users."
Despite STRATCOM's security concerns, the Pentagon's top brass uses these social media sites, clearly recognizing the power to communicate directly with the public on military issues.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, uses Twitter to share insights into positive American military activities that often are overlooked by mainstream media outlets.
Mullen's recent tweets include: "Helped open a school in the Panjshir Valley yesterday. built by Greg Mortenson. smiles on those young faces said it all! power of education" and "Visited with Marines in Helmand yesterday. They truly understand counterinsurgency, not one civilian casualty. Protecting the Afghan people".
Also, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American military leader in Iraq, has shown his understanding of the power of social media for public diplomacy. Odierno, the commanding general of multinational forces, uses his Facebook fan page to share positive stories from Iraq that are usually not reported by the mainstream media.
Odierno updates his Facebook page often with military and human interest stories from Iraq. The titles of his most recent postings have been: "Factory Owners Association helps promote jobs and security in Baghdad," "Key education initiative to strengthen U.S.-Iraq ties" and "Iraqi child recovers following free surgery."
I think the Marine Corps is shortsighted to shut down all social networking sites out of fear of network security breaches. The American military is the most powerful and sophisticated in the world; we should have enough smart IT guys to ensure that our men and women in uniform can use Facebook without creating a national security threat.
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