Pentagon Keeps Wary Watch as Troops Blog

Pentagon Keeps Wary Watch as Troops Blog - James Dao, New York Times.

... There are two sides to the military's foray into the freewheeling world of the interactive Web. At the highest echelons of the Pentagon, civilian officials and four-star generals are newly hailing the power of social networking to make members of the American military more empathetic, entice recruits and shape public opinion on the war.

Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of American forces in Iraq, is on Facebook. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has a YouTube channel and posts Twitter updates almost daily.

The Army is encouraging personnel of all ranks to go online and collaboratively rewrite seven of its field manuals. And on Aug. 17, the Department of Defense unveiled a Web site promoting links to its blogs and its Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube sites.

The Web, however, is a big place. And the many thousands of troops who use blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites to communicate with the outside world are not always in tune with the Pentagon's official voice. Policing their daily flood of posts, videos and photographs is virtually impossible - but that has not stopped some in the military from trying...

More at The New York Times.

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A point worth noting, perhaps - at about the time the DoD began to really notice bloggers in their midst (about a year and a half to two years after the earliest definable "milblogs" started) was about the time I noticed that out of approximately 50 (ahem) younger people under my supervision, approximately 50 had MySpace pages. (This is @2004/5 timeframe, pre-Facebook even.)

There's been some good catch up effort in the years since then, and certainly much credit is due Lt Gen Caldwell for his efforts in this regard. As Starbuck points out, however, the "trickle down" hasn't exactly reached a saturation point.

I could go on and on about my experiences in 2007, the few number of deployed folks blogging by that time, and the number of "legitimate" newspaper and magazine pieces (approved and otherwise) written by deployed or previously deployed troops that brought a whole lot of "bad press" to our efforts in Iraq. I can think of no counter examples. (A PA guy once told me every release they put out always quoted at least one Joe and included the name of his home town in the hopes that at least a small town paper might actually run the story.)

I don't mean to imply here that bloggers would have countered negative news with tales of how wonderful and rosy Iraq was in 2007 - far from it. But had several dozen self-motivated chroniclers of life been allowed to speak their minds there would at least have been some balance in the output. (And more of that "calling out" Schmedlap refers to above.)

I would submit, Rebecca, that the majority of Soldiers will do the right thing (and Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coasties) regardless if they were properly educated. I know you did not mean it this way - but that sounds like indoctrination to me. Regardless, the floodgate is open and DoD, JCS, the COCOMS, and the Services have to come to terms with the fact that there is nothing, nothing, they can do to reverse the trend. Band aids won't do it.

I'm still waiting for the day when the mandatory OPSEC class (which usually includes a long diatribe about how the evil bloggers are going to lose the war due to information leaks) are balanced with classes on how these forms of media can have a positive impact, and how TO use them.

The latest trend at the highest levels in the military is to embrace social media sights, even with the challenges they sometimes create. In fact, in the intermediate level education course that nearly all majors in the Army will attend, posting to a blog is actually a graduation requirement. In the past, the public affairs environment has been reticent to change; however, the current leadership realizes that in order to inform the American public in an age of diminshing readership in print media, using all internet resources has become vital. True, policing individual violators can become an increasingly difficult problem with the proliferation of individual blogs and social networking sites. However, I would argue that the majority of soldiers will do the right thing, particularly if properly educated.

GH,

Both are solid and while they may be "bumper stickers" there is truth to those words and much behind him that many just do not understand.

Dave

I long ago boiled my thoughts on this issue down to two bumper stickers.

One for would-be deployed bloggers: Write like Osama and your mama are readers.

And one for their supervisors: When milblogs are outlawed, only outlaws will have milblogs.

I think the key is not so much educating leaders on social media, but rather educating Soldiers on how their behavior cam impact the information component of the war. Many begin blogging in order to gain some kind of following, not considering the actual impact of their activity. They need to understand, first, that they are not as well-informed as they think they are. We need to do a better job of conveying to the random E-4 just how worthless his opinion on national security strategy is (about equal in value to a 19-year-old college student's opinion on national politics). Next they need to understand that if they air their worthless opinion to a mass audience of people who know little to nothing about the military, then they will help to feed misconceptions and provide fodder for people with political agendas, to include foreign propagandists. I think that some understand this, but are blinded by their narcissism (perhaps remedial education in Army Values would help). Others simply don't realize how their messages are received. STAY IN YOUR LANE.

On the whole, however, I still think that the positives of social media are far outweighed by the negatives. One example: Consider a loud-mouth who returns from a deployment having spent half of his time burning trash and feces as continual punishment for his inability to follow simple instructions and his general ass-hattery over the course of a deployment. He will probably return home to tell BS stories about what a hard-charging killing machine he was and how his know-nothing chain of command screwed him over and hampered him with restrictive ROE that prevented him from winning the war. In small settings among family members and associates, there is not likely going to be a voice of reason to call him out on his BS. People who do not know much about the military (most people) will take what he says at face value. It will feed the popular misconceptions about "restrictive ROE" and reinforce an image of Soldiers as victims. But if he does this in a blog or on a Facebook page, it will take about five minutes for someone to call him out and set the matter straight. On the internet, the BS-flag color guard is always on call.