US Military May Ban Twitter, Facebook as "Security Headaches"

Defense technology reporter Noah Shachtman has been covering conflicts over the use of social media within the US military ranks for years. This past week, he's been on top of the most recent news that the Pentagon may impose a very wide ban on Twitter and Facebook for security reasons.

He first posted the news of a possible "near-total ban" on social media last week at Wired's Danger Room blog, and there's now an update.

Snip from his most recent post:

Military Times says discussions on what to do about the social media sites involve U.S. Strategic Command, "the Pentagon's chief information officer and its public affairs organization, and are being guided by Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn."

Opinions range across the "full spectrum" from an all-out blockade to doing nothing at all, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman tells the paper.

"The answer is somewhere between," he said. We're working through this challenge of how do we operate in this environment -- because these are important communication tools -- and at the same time, provide the necessary protection to our systems [and] ensure the necessary operational security and private security concerns that any organization would have."

Pentagon Wrestles with Possible Twitter, Facebook Ban (Updated) (Wired Danger Room; photo: USAF)

Update: Danger Room contributor David Axe has an exclusive interview up today with the Pentagon's "Social Media Czar," who strongly advocates Web 2.0 access despite pressures to ban.


  1. they have to match policy with the intellect and discipline of the available manpower. Tell me again how the army is different than a corporation?

  2. There’s probably a lot of sense to banning Twitter and Facebook in the military – if you’re a Pentagon technocrat. Others will miss updating their profiles in the middle of a war zone.

  3. I prefer phrasing in the other direction – tell me how a corporation is different than an army?

    The answer (if there is one) probably lies with objectives and means thereto.

  4. You know, I really do not have a problem with that. From the security standpoint it makes perfectly good sense. Loose Lips Sinking ships and all that. I think this is the first time we ahve had troops that could instantly (or at least when they can get to a connected computer) post to the world, pictures and views of the action. That is a lot of intel that the otherside could use against our troops and I have never been really comfortable with that.
    Further, when you put on the uniform and take the oath you put yourself under a different set of rules than the average citizen and having your voice censored has always been the case. It is just that in the past your voice only extended to family and friends. Now it can be found on the intertubes instantly.
    Lastly, yes it does add a burdan to the young men and woman who are torn from their families and placed in a very dangerous situation. And nothing like word from home ro the ability to chat with your spouse. I understand that. but this simply will take out the instant and universal nature of that communication. And frankly I think that is the sacrifice that needs to be made for the greater safty and security of all members in the armed forces in a combat zone.

  5. @ Erict #4:

    You know, I wonder how much truth there ever was to that old “loose lips sink ships” line. Can anyone produce a single verified account of a U.S. naval ship getting attacked because some low-ranking sailor blabbed to his buddies?

  6. Further, when you put on the uniform and take the oath you put yourself under a different set of rules than the average citizen and having your voice censored has always been the case.

    Spoken like a true paper-pushing bureaucrat – who will be the ones behind this nonsense.

    The actual military staff will be the ones opposed to it, and while they won’t want to say it in public, it comes down to one of the simplest and most important rules: never give an order that you know won’t be obeyed. It’s terribly bad for discipline to let soldiers get into the habit of doing that.

    And make no mistake, a ban like this would not be obeyed. It is not a choice between “allow access to facebook” and “deny access to facebook”. It is a choice between “supervised access” and “bootleg access that the grunts set up by bribing the comms tech”. You *will* *not* prevent them from talking to their families, now that they have the technology to do so. Might as well try to prevent them from going to bars and brothels.

    It sounds like the idiots have been stopped, though. Not going to be any stupid “sacrifices” here, they’ll just come up with a way to monitor it.

  7. So this is what’s going on. Walter Reed Army Medical Center has been web 2.0-less despite the Army’s mandating access NLT 5/2009. There was supposed to be training last week on how to use this subversive media but was canceled – oh, excuse me – postponed, and this explains it. Wonder how many of the big shots at the Pentagon can access whatever they want.

  8. I am gonna have to support the IT Nazis on this one. As a company, there is no valid reason that everyone should be able to update their Facebook/Twitter accounts at work unless they are in Public Relations/Marketing/Recruiting.

    What possible contribution to the Army would a GS-11 Financial Analyst serve by posting “Ugh…another FY09 budget review meeting” on Twitter?

    Unless engaging those websites is directly related to your job, you probably shouldn’t be on those websites.

    With respect to the whole secret/unclass issue, if the DoD wants to participate in the Web 2.0 world internally, they should set up an internal DoDbook or something.

  9. Unless they completely ban all access to contact outside of the military, this is the stupidest idea I think I’ve ever heard about how to control military security.

    If a soldier can already write a letter, on paper, and send it via snail mail, that gives away all of the secrets that s/he is entrusted with, then there is already a huge hole in the system.

    Personally, I say trust your military. Trust that you have trained them well. And then let them stay in touch with friends and family back home so they have connections with the real world. Those little connections can make all of the difference in the life of a soldier. Seriously. They are still human beings and deserve to have normal lives as much as they can.

  10. It is more difficult to recruit people (i.e. “lie”) when soldiers can instantly tell everyone back home about the shit they are doing and dealing with.

  11. Which reminds me, what ever happened with Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s son Deryk’s MySpace page?

  12. I can maybe see an argument for making it so that troops can’t post about where they are, but I’m with mellowknees – trust your military.

    I see no reason why the military forces over seas should be prevented from seeing pictures and updates from their friends and family back home. That is an extraordinarily important connection for the people back home as well as those who are away. One of my college roommates relied on Facebook to share pictures with her Marine husband of their infant and then toddler daughter during both of his tours. While it wasn’t perfect, it helped her through that time, as well as letting him see all the firsts he missed experiencing in person.

  13. #6 BrainSpore – Who knows but is it worth it? I think it is valid to warn against discussing operational details of the unit.

    #7 Asuffield – Now I resent that. I am not a paper pushing bureaucrat. Far From it. Even though I disagree with you I do say that your follow on does have credence.
    I would counter it by stating that the training a soldier recieves, particularly infantry, is designed to instill discipline and to obey all orders from their superiors without question.

    Now we may disagree but really, name calling?

    Now in the interest of full disclosure,
    Eric T never spent any time in the military other then an Alices Resterauntesque day in 1976 when I decided it was not for me.
    Further Eric T is a liberal Democrat who would rather light movies than push papers but needs a day job so he writes software for a big membership chain.
    Having stated my political affilaition and career choices, he would also note that we should leave the decisions about how to run the military to the military and the decissions on when to go to war to the politicians. At least we can vote thier asses out of office.
    Thank you and now I am going to watch iCarly with my daughter.

  14. A little disappointed that the “full spectrum” only goes “from an all-out blockade to doing nothing at all.” What about an all out subsidization of social networking media? They could offer classes on responsible use and encourage use to improve the military’s image online. That strategy seems to be what’s been working so well for the terrorists.

  15. “they have to match policy with the intellect and discipline of the available manpower. Tell me again how the army is different than a corporation?”

    If the Army was a corporation, they would be banning social networking on the premise that it harms productivity, in that they would be afraid of soldiers checking Facebook while they were supposed to be out killing insurgents.

  16. Serving military have limited rights of privacy, including mail censorship.

    so, why not just set up a ePO (like and FPO or APO), and build an interface to twitter and the like which e-censors the content (or time delays it) before sending it on to Twitter or Facebook, or whichever.

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