Marine Corps Ban of Facebook, Twitter Cuts Off Soldiers as Conduits for Peace

Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have all been banned by the Marine Corps for one year, and the Pentagon is reviewing social network site use. Altimeter Group's Charlene Li and Gartner analysts wonder why governance of these Web services is not being practiced in lieu of a blackout. They believe such sites can be used to keep soldiers connected with their families and promote peace in the communities in which the soldiers serve.

The dominoes are falling on government use of social networks, but industry analysts are exasperated by the U.S. military's inconsistent policies for using sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

The U.S. Marine Corps issued an order Aug. 3 banning the use of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter for the next year. One day later, the U.S. Pentagon ordered a review of the threats and benefits of using social network sites.

These actions follow the U.S. Army's decision in June to let personnel access Facebook and Twitter even as it banned MySpace and YouTube.

The Marine Corps was particularly harsh in its condemnation of the use of social networks, as it wrote in its order:

These Internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries. The very nature of it creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts OPSEC, COMSEC, personnel and the MCEN at an elevated risk of compromise. Examples of Internet SNS Sites include Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.

It's hard to argue with such concerns. U.S. soldiers' lives are already in jeopardy enough in the war versus Iraq without service men and women inadvertently giving away strategic locations.

More than 250 million people use Facebook in the United States; more than 100 million U.S. citizens use MySpace; and Twitter attracted a total of 44.5 million unique visitors worldwide in June.

But some analysts who follow social networks believe it's not fair to cut off Facebook, MySpace and Twitter use for soldiers who use these tools as lifelines to family and friends back home. These analysts believe the military just needs a little governance over the manner in which the sites are used.

Altimeter Group analyst Charlene Li said she spent time on the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier, which just deployed from San Diego with 7,000 soldiers July 31. Soldiers on the carrier told her Facebook was their lifeline to home, enabling them to see pictures and video of families. "If you think about the morale for service members, it's absolutely essential," Li told eWEEK.