In the past few days, the Pentagon has announced it is reviewing the unrestricted use of social networks – Twitter, Facebook and the like – on its computer networks, while the Marines have now banned the practice. There were also numerous reports on the efforts of several NFL teams to ban Twitter use by journalists during practices or even by their players.
In the former example, the Pentagon is apparently concerned about security risks, and are at least working to integrate their various policies on the subject (the rule does not affect private outreach.) It will take some work to develop consistent, clear rules, however, since the Pentagon already uses social networks in recruiting and PR and there is widespread use – and tacit endorsement – of Twitter and other networks for communication between soldiers and their families. The reaction across the NFL is similar, in the sense that coaches are apparently worried about leaks on game strategy and player status.
While there is some logic behind these concerns – particularly for the Pentagon,where security concerns are legitimate – the flaw in the directives is that they single out social networks and fail to reconcile how security concerns are addressed through other – far more mundane – communication platforms (e.g. cellphones.) It’s true that Twitter and other networks have reach and immediacy that aren’t inherent in email or cellphones, but the decision still smacks of paranoia. The focus of the NFL and Marines should be on clearly defining what content should be kept confidential – on any platform or device – and ensuring they aggressively promote those policies with their members. Chasing a particular platform or application is a losing game, since those will continue to evolve and new technology will doubtless be added to the mix. And trying to turn off the flow of communication across these platforms – at least in terms of personal use – is likely futile. The barn door is wide open….