DoD and Marine Corps Speak Out on Social Media Ban

By Ian Graham
DMA Emerging Media

On Aug. 5 I had the chance to sit in on a pair of interviews: one with Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, the other with Senior Information Assurance Official for the Marine Corps Ray Letteer.

Based on the media coverage surrounding the recently publicized Marine Corps’ social media ban, I had expected the interviews to be almost a face-off. The Department of Defense vs. the Marine Corps, two enter, one exits (and, depending on the victor, may or may not post the results to their Facebook and Twitter pages).

As the other interviewers (the Pentagon Channel’s Master Sgt. George Maurer and the American Forces Press Service’s John J. Kruzel) and I spoke with Whitman, we heard what could be expected. The department is currently weighing the risks and benefits of social media tools and is working on a defined policy as related to the usage of Web 2.0 tools within a military environment. Nothing new or groundbreaking, just a reiteration of previous statements from department officials.

For the first 90 percent of the interview with Letteer, it was essentially the same. While he explained the new MARADMIN was only restating a DoD-wide policy created in February 2007 (a fact I’ve yet to see reported), and the other services have taken initiative to try using social media within their missions, his overall message was that the Marine Corps was doing its best to maintain its network security for the mission’s sake. Until DoD issues a policy, he said, the Marine Corps will stick with the policy outlined in 2007.

“We want to balance that security to protect our Marines on the network [and] at the same time start looking into using this new technology,” Letteer said, “but do it in a way … where we move in smartly, carefully and do it the right way the first time.”

But what about public affairs or recruiting missions that might require access? Oh, another underreported tidbit, the Marine Corps has a system in place allowing for digital waivers, granting access to social media when needed in an official capacity. Letteer said more than 350 such waivers have been approved this year.

And, the big kicker, the Marine Corps doesn’t restrict access on personal computer systems. That’s correct, this major ban on social media is not only two and a half years old, but it only applies to government computers on the Marine Corps Enterprise Network. So Marines aren’t allowed access to sites like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter while they’re on a work computer ,unless their work requires it, but on their personal computers on commercial networks (which Letteer said are available to troops stationed overseas) they’re allowed access to whatever sites they wish.

Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but doesn’t that make this whole clash of the titans, Marines vs. DoD throwdown story that’s being spread… kind of untrue?  In a really fundamental way? It seems like media outlets have taken this story and run with it before anybody figured out the right way to answer the question.

Like any major company would place restrictions in the name of workplace efficiency, the Marines have banned their employees (servicemembers and civilians) from using social networks on government time and equipment. And, Letteer said, when the Department of Defense works out a policy regarding social networks, the Marines will comply.

Read the DefenseLINK article here
Read the Marine Corps MARADMIN here
Watch the Pentagon Channel Report here

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