Department of Defense switches default policy on social media to ‘open’

March 2, 2010

As of last Friday, all US servicemen have been able to update social networks like Twitter and Facebook from non-classified military network computers.

The announcement by the Department of Defense is the first time a single policy has been used across all branches of the Armed Forces and effectively reverses a Marine Corps ban on access last August. 

Speaking to a Bloggers Round Table yesterday, Price Floyd, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said he encouraged serving soldiers to open up a Facebook page or a Twitter account. He also wanted to see more blogging from the front lines. 

Floyd described the formation of the new policy as a learning process (a diplomatic way of saying he faced some opposition as revealed by a fellow social media advocate) that took six or seven months. Floyd believed further cultural change was necessary particularly within the middle ranks of the Armed Forces.

While the default position might be switched to ‘open’, the policy still allows for "temporary" blocks on access.  

Concerns were raised on the Bloggers Round Table about maintaining Operational Security (OPSEC). Floyd said social media was "not an OPSEC free zone" and that OPSEC concerns essentially hadn’t changed, before rather paradoxically adding that they had become more important.

He urged those in uniform not to say anything you wouldn’t say in front of your boss or your grandma and reminded them that the potential impact of these sites is so much greater than a letter or a telephone call.

Floyd also addressed concerns about available bandwidth, often cited in the past as a reason why certain websites cannot be accessed. He acknowledged that this was still an issue:

"This policy does not add bandwidth. It might add to the strain on the existing bandwidth…in places like Afghanistan that’s a struggle."

This was a point taken up by one of the commenters on the DoD’s Roundtable blog who claimed that since the policy has been in place 15% of the bandwidth from the Combined Joint Operations Area has been going to Facebook.

We’ll have to wait and see what other changes the policy will bring about in practice. In the meantime we can expect further guidance on the Department of Defense’s Memorandum on social media to be published in 180 days.