Social Media in the Military: What Can It Teach Us?

I recently spoke with a Department of Defense contact about the internal battle currently being waged at DoD over the use of social networking. Sites like FaceBook have become a critical way for warfighters to stay in touch with friends and family, but of course the only way for soldiers to use such services in many theaters (including Afghanistan and Iraq) is through networks provided by their employers. And, some of their employers are not fans of FaceBook.

The battle he described (and as described in published reports – I’m not revealing anything secret here) sounds like the same battle occurring inside corporate America. The “old guard” takes a hard line, saying “we’re fighting a g*damned war here, these kids don’t need to be on the Internet,” and the “new guard” says, “hey this is the new reality, suck it up” (it seems like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is part of the new guard). Both are right, in their own way, which is why the middle ground must be fought for.

After all, here are the facts:

  1. Most organizations ask a lot of employees, i.e., working long hours, traveling for business, and being constantly available.
  2. Employees need to have personal lives, or they will no longer be our employees (or at least, not happy, productive ones-especially millennials).
  3. Communication with friends and family is essential to having a personal life.
  4. We don’t block all non-work telephone calls, or (in most cases) prevent our employees from having personal cellphones.
  5. Yesterday’s telephone is today’s social networking tool.

BUT

  1. Organizations are generally liable for their employee’s use or misuse of their assets, i.e., everything from company cars to the company’s computer networks.
  2. This liability and risk extends to information technology, including social networks.
  3. If we allow social networking tools, we must identify and manage that risk.
  4. Social networking tools ARE different than the telephone, in that all communications are inherently recorded. So, we have to deal with this recorded information.

The worst of all  worlds is that we turn a blind eye to social networking and allow employees to do whatever they want. One the one hand, this fails to maximize the potential benefit of the technology by not encouraging and facilitating its use, and on the other hand, buys all the liability and risk.

There are only two options.

One, don’t use it at all. Ban it, control it, shut it down.

Two, legitimize its use through policies, training, and technical controls to minimize the downside, and then encourage and incorporate its use to maximize its benefit.

Apathy is no excuse, and hope is not a strategy. Get on top of it today. Hmmn, how many more clichés can I leave you with?

UPDATE: The DoD has releases a policy regarding secure use of social media. Excellent coverage here.

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