As the Pentagon warns of the security risks posed by social networking sites, newly released government documents show the military also uses these Internet tools to monitor and react to coverage of high-profile events.
The Air Force tracked online messaging service Twitter, video-sharing site YouTube and various blogs to assess the huge public backlash to the Air Force One flyover of the Statue of Liberty this spring, according to the documents.
And while the attempts at damage control failed â€” “No positive spin is possible,” one PowerPoint chart reads â€” the episode opens a window into the tactics for operating in a boundless digital news cycle.
This new terrain has slippery slopes, though, for the military. Facebook, MySpace and other social media sites are very popular among service members, including those in Iraq and Afghanistan who want to keep in touch with friends and family. The sites are also valued by military organizations for recruiting or communicating with other federal agencies.
But posting information on these interactive links makes it vulnerable to being lost or stolen by the enemy, according to Pentagon officials. On Thursday, a hacking attack shut downÂ Twitter for several hours, while Facebook had intermittent access problems â€” an indication of the shortcomings of relying on these services.
The Marine Corps’ computer network blocks users from accessing social media sites, which service officials say expose “information to adversaries” and provide “an easy conduit for information leakage.”
The Marines recently made its ban official. And that prohibition might extend to other parts of the military pending a top-level review ordered in late July by Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn.
In a widely distributed memo, Lynn said the so-called “Web 2.0â€³ sites are important tools but more study is needed to understand their threats and benefits.