twitter_logoMidshipman Withington brought up the first Danger Room article suggesting that the DoD may take drastic steps to shut down access to social software services, but I wanted to touch on the details in the second, updated Danger Room post on the subject.

As a reminder, the debate is the full spectrum of access options for DoD employees. It isn’t just whether DoD networks should be used to post information, but whether DoD networks should have access to read social networks. To understand the scope of the problem, it needs to be noted that anyone on an external internet network can use Twitter to update nonsense like this:

On duty @ the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center. All is currently (relatively) quiet. Honor 2 be back w/ my fellow Navy colleagues

Thank you very much Commander Mark Kirk, Navy Reserve. BTW, who is Mark Kirk? I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Mark Kirk represents the 10th Congressional District of Illinois located in the suburbs north of Chicago.

Now in his fifth term, Congressman Kirk is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and is co-chairman of the moderate GOP Tuesday Group and the bipartisan House US-China Working Group.

In Congress, Congressman Kirk works to advance a suburban agenda that is pro-defense, pro-personal responsibility, pro-environment, and pro-science. He wrote a number of provisions which became law, including funding for commuter rail, improving veteran’s health care, ensuring military voting, and boosting aviation security.

Kirk, who holds the rank of Commander, is a Naval Reserve intelligence officer and has served during conflicts with Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, and Bosnia. He recently became the first member of Congress to serve in an imminent danger zone since 1942 when he deployed as a reservist to Afghanistan in December. The U.S. Navy named Kirk ‘Intelligence Officer of the Year’ in 1999 for his combat service in Kosovo.

If the DoD sees this as a software problem, then the DoD is helpless and hopeless in the next information war. This is 100% a human problem, and is specific to policy and lack of decisive leadership when it comes to social software.

If I was contributing advice to the DoD, I would come down like this. What is the functional purpose of social software to the work of folks inside the DoD and the Navy? Until that question can be answered with an acceptable use policy for an organization, actions like those of Commander Kirk should be expected to be the rule even if they represent the exception today.

The tools should be evaluated individually as part of this process, because for most organizations, even popular tools like Facebook and Twitter may not have a functional purpose while a bandwidth hog like YouTube may have an important functional purpose for the average employee. The reality is, in many government organizations, Facebook and Twitter offer almost no business function whatsoever to the typical employee. For example, I do not see how any soldier, sailor, or airman whose job function isn’t specific to public information disclosure of some kind can find the use of Twitter or Facebook useful to their work.

If you disagree with my take on Twitter, leave a 140 character work related comment that somehow generates a response that improves the quality of your work in a way that doesn’t give any detailed identifying information.

In my professional experience, tool analysis is usually the missing aspect of the social software acceptable use policy. Twitter may be great for the public affairs employee, but for the 99.9% of other employees it offers no value at all for any time spent using the tool while on the clock. Another example is how public affairs blogs tend to be so boring, so as a general rule blogs are not very productive for public affairs purposes. With that said, a blog post by a respectable doctor discussing details of H1N1 can be useful to any of several thousands of employees in any organization, so access to blogs by employees is often much more useful than access to Twitter by employees.

It is a very simple concept. Once an organization knows which tools are productive for workers, and which tools aren’t, the resulting acceptable use policy of the organization often assists employees towards understanding not only why they are and are not allowed to use specific tools, but what makes the specific tools that are allowed useful and productive and thus justifies the stated policy. Like I said, very simple concepts…

Posted by galrahn in Cyber

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  • Benjamin Walthrop

    The same argument could be applied to many of the emails folks in industry and the military receive every day. I guess the difference could be the fact that the emails are not readily accessible to the public at large.

    That said, I believe the social networking software is not the problem so much as the lack of access on the intranet side of the firewall.

    IBM has some very powerful internal “social networking” functions built into their enterprise software that look very similar to what facebook and twitter have to offer on the public side IMHO. This is but one example of a company that is trying to leverage the tools to further their business model.

    You have correctly identified the fact that the DoD has failed to publish an acceptable use policy, but I don’t necessarily agree that cutting off access to the tools is the correct step to take at this juncture.


  • ENS Intensity

    As someone who uses Twitter and Facebook for personal uses often, I actually agree for the most part. These programs have little to no use for most sailors, soldiers, airmen or marines.

    However, there is one group that could make use of these programs, other than PAOs: Intel. Twitter has proven its worth for Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) during the Iranian protests a few months ago. Facebook can be used for Human intelligence. I’m not saying that everyone should have access to these websites. But some intel people could use it too.

  • Charley Armstrong

    As a user of many “Web 2.0” applications, RSS feeds are far more useful in disseminating technical and political information than LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. While LinkedIn may be marginally useful in keeping up with business contacts, the latter two seem to be built for people who need to maintain their social lives at all times. Although less efficient, but perhaps more personable, I prefer SMS for that function.

  • Anathema

    The issue, however, and as I have been told repeatedly in over 20 years of uniformed service…it’s not just a job.

    So long as we work 14-16 hour days, get underway, deploy, travel and so on, we are mixing work and other life in a way that Gen Y sees as common. But, when you attempt to separate out the “work related” from the “non-work related” you end up on a slippery slope that can take us back to the excesses of the 80’s when a Marin Captain was courtmartialed for using a work typewriter for writing an off duty school paper.

    Oh…and if someone were to press the “non-work related” to become a norm, then Navy can pretty much take back my Blackberry, because I won’t be reading work emails at home… 🙂

  • Oh…and if someone were to press the “non-work related” to become a norm, then Navy can pretty much take back my Blackberry, because I won’t be reading work emails at home…
    Hear – Hear!
    – SJS

  • Byron

    Which explains why I turn my phone off when I clock out 🙂

  • mjzitek

    “So long as we work 14-16 hour days, get underway, deploy, travel and so on, we are mixing work and other life in a way that Gen Y sees as common”

    I totally agree. When you send 6..8..a year or more straight when only access to “government computers” while on deployment the only access to the outside world is through your work computers. While Facebook and Twitter may not have functional purpose at work, that could be said for 99% of the websites we visit underway.

    The article mentioned that access to a blog about H1N1 could be useful. I can look at twitter and within a few pages, get more up to date than had I looked at multiple websites. I follow a lot of different people/organizations, including news sources, miliatry/goverment sources, and friends.

  • Spade

    A friend of mine (with a very wee one) is in Alaska and her husband (in several years) is deployed. Facebook is one of the major ways they keep in touch.
    They ban facebook and other such things and I can just about guarantee some folks won’t be coming back.

    “Oh, well, the Army won’t let me use this to leave messages for my wife and see pics of my kid easily.”

    Yeah, that’ll go over well. In this day and age banning, say, facebook is about the equivalent of banning the mail. You need guidelines, not blanket bans.

  • Phil

    How about leaving it up to each command to regulate access to Facebook or Twitter?

  • Is use of these sites by people with access to classified material
    considered a potential National Security problem or not? I can’t
    answer that question. Who can answer it? I suspect the answer is no, but I need more information to decide. The only other question
    I would want answered is whether it wastes government time, which I equate with money. Woody Sanford
    Capt.(MC) USNR(ret.)

  • Anathema

    Captain Sanford – are you advocating a ban for all use by all DoD personnel, whether they are on a government computer accessing or those sites, or at home? For your second positing…can you tell me when I, on active duty, am *NOT* on “government time”?

  • Benjamin Walthrop

    Anathema and I are in alignment on this issue. After a couple of tours in DC, I find that some of these networking tools are becoming increasingly important in executing my job. Interestingly enough, I find that my day does not start at 0600 and end at 1700 as well. Could the networking be handled in a different way. Sure, but I’m not sure it would be as efficient and effective. Anyway just my $0.02.


  • Mark Wroth

    “Once an organization knows which tools are productive for workers, and which tools aren’t, ….”. Quite aside from the various points made about the mixture of personal and professional life mentioned by other commenters, how exactly does an organization “know” what tools are productive? The traditional answer is that the organization is somehow all knowing, and knows more than any of the workers in it.

    While there can be knowledge in the “best practices” learned across an organization, at base the only things an organization knows are the things its members know. Especially in an environment of rapid and accelerating change, the idea that the organization somehow knows more about what tools are more productive for all of its workers seems to lack an understanding of this.

    Are there problems with uncontrolled postings to public social networking sites. Sure. Is that a problem with the tool, the environment, or the user? Is the solution to ban the tool?

  • Good point, thanks so much for the article.