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DoD Social Media Policy Expires March 1 with No Follow-up. What’s the Impact?

The DoD’s social media policy, titled, “Directive-Type Memorandum (DTM) 09-026 – Responsible and Effective Use of Internet-based Capabilities” will expire on March 1, 2011. Through discussions with people in DoD, I’ve learned that the stated plan to replace this policy with a long-term Instruction has been shelved indefinitely, and all resources associated with this effort have been terminated. This raises many questions.

  • Will soldiers across the DoD still be able to access facebook and twitter to communicate with their friends and families?
  • Will DoD again be prevented from conducting mission-oriented work outside of their network?
  • Will social networking sites be blocked across DoD, or will we go back to the previous status quo where they are blocked in some services but not others?

This policy was result of a very contentions internal and eventually public fight in 2009 about whether people in the military other than recruiters and public affairs officers should be able to access sites like Facebook, Youtube, Skype and Twitter. On one side of the debate, US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), the Marine Corps and the Air Force (initially) supported blocking access to social networking sites, while the DoD CIO, OSD Public Affairs, the Navy, Army, and many of the Combatant Commands advocated a more open stance. Many other components engaged in this process, with specific topics of interest ranging from intelligence concerns, privacy, innovation, security and records management. In the end, the Joint Chiefs and Deputy Secretary decide upon a posture that advocated an open stance that took both security risks and operational opportunities into account. My part in this effort (as a contractor to DoD CIO) was as one of the principal authors of the draft policy that senior leaders took and modified over a period of months, eventually leading to the final version.

While the malicious actions of Pfc. Manning have certainly shifted the debate regarding information sharing and “Need to Know” versus “Need to Share”, I think its worth revisiting the rationale behind the stance of DoD’s social media policy. The reasons for stating that the “NIPRNET shall be configured to provide access to Internet-based capabilities across all DoD Components” have not gone away, nor have the faults associated with the proposed remedy to close down access. As anyone involved in policy writing knows, the actual policy statements provide an approach to resolve the issues identified, yet the problems and goals are often not part of the actual policy itself. From my own perspective, here were key issues that the Internet-based Capabilities policy addressed:

  • Access to social networking services on sites like Facebook, YouTube, Skype and Twitter has lessened the burden that multiple tours lasting extended durations have had on military families – cutting off access would potentially impact military readiness.
  • DoD policies have not kept pace with the risks and opportunities generated by evolving internet technologies
  • DoD is already using internet technologies outside of the DoD network for critical mission oriented work
  • The DoD approach to interacting with the internet is fractured and inconsistent
  • The threats posed by social networking services (social engineering and malware) are not unique, but are endemic across the internet
  • The proposed remedy (blocking access to social networking sites) doesn’t work

Military Families access to Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Skype, etc: During the formulation of this policy, for the first time ever, DoD engaged with the public in true open government fashion to solicit guidance from the public. The DoD Web 2.0 Guidance Forum generated significant interest, with over 280 responses alone from military families relaying heart-wrenching stories attesting to the need for access to these tools, even outside of MWR facilities.

From Robert Dozier:

With Facebook and Twitter, a deployed Soldier has the opportunity to speak in relative-time to their friends and loved ones, without the limitations of real-time methods.Imagine the words “heading to the hospital” as they are shared in text form vs. voice form. Could be a spouse going to deliver a baby, or a Soldier being med-evaced. In the face of reality, these words may never get through except through the use of Social Media. Keep it open, keep it safe, and keep it real.

From Tina Hayes:

My daughter is in Iraq and used the net cam to watch her son’s first birthday party. These sites are the way most family members can find out how their soldiers are doing. This is my daughters second tour and using the computer is much easier than using the phone to find out how she is doing and what she needs me to send her. Please don’t take this mode of communication away from the families of our soldiers.

From Kelly Awtrey:

These social media tools are invaluable while stationed overseas where communication, contrary to popular belief and what the media will have you believe, is spotty AT BEST. Even if I am not actually chatting with my husband we can exchange necessary information through “wall posts” that keep us informed, such as bank transfers, equipment I need to send him, etc. It is also a HUGE morale booster to be able to communicate with family and loved ones. As my husband’s missions are extremely dangerous just getting a quick post lets me know he’s alive which is an IMMENSE stress reliever for me.

If you care about this issue or even have a passing interest, do yourself a favor and read through a some of these posts – the need is clear. Bottom line, its clear that social media has had an immense impact in allowing families to maintain a sense of normalcy. This has a direct impact to military readiness.

DoD Policies have not kept pace with the opportunities and risks of internet technologies: The policy uses the term Internet-based Capabilities for a specific reason – We might be concerned about the risks of social networking sites today, but tomorrow will provide a whole new set of innovations that have new security concerns, and new ways of improving our work. When this policy expires, the associated actions in the roles and responsibilities with tracking the risks and opportunities also disappear. If DoD doesn’t track this, it will both lose out on the opportunities, while yet again being blindsided by the new vulnerabilities.

DoD is already using Internet Technologies outside of the DoD network for critical mission oriented work: One of the key questions during the policy development process concerned whether DoD personnel and organizations could conduct critical mission oriented work outside of the DoD Network. Jack Holt captured the question best by asking whether we should look at the Internet as a fortress to defend from, or whether we consider it a field of maneuver. If its a fortress to defend from, than yes, we should build the walls. The problem is by doing so, we will be ceding the internet to our opponents and adversaries who will use it for misinformation, disinformation and impersonation. The current policy allows the following types of things to occur:

  • For disaster response situations, the best pre-validated information early on in a crisis is often social media data. For example, during the Haiti disaster one year ago, the US military relied on Haitians texting needs in Kreyol to an SMS shortcode for their front-end situational awareness efforts. Through Mission 4636, whole groups of volunteers including students and members of the Haitian diaspora worked to turn the texts messages into actionable data which resulted in Marine and Coast Guard hilocopters being deployed to rescue hundreds if not thousands of lives.
  • Combatant Commands regularly use social media sites to get key situational awareness information in places where credible news organizations don’t exist.
  • Services and Combatant Commands use social networking sites to form relationships with NGOs, partner nations and other US agencies. Creating these social networks in peace-time settings allows them to be leveraged in crisis situations.
  • Senior Leaders in the Army use sites like Facebook to directly connect with soldiers in ways never possible before.
  • Regular soldiers are able to fully assist recruitment efforts by engaging in direct peer to peer conversations with those thinking about joining. Social media allows them to assist recruiters in ways never possible before.

DoD’s approach to interacting with the internet is fractured and inconsistent: Prior to the Internet-based Capabilities policy, if you were in the Marine Corps, sites like Youtube and Facebook were blocked. But if you were in the Army, you just might have full access to them. The policy addressed this by requiring the same level of access across DoD. On March 1, I wouldn’t be surprised to see YouTube and other sites cut off once again.

The threats posed by social networking services (social engineering and malware) are not unique: While there are concerns with social networking services, most internet security experts will tell you that the number of attacks via email far outnumber the rest of the web. Social engineering and malware occur across the internet, not just through Facebook. And truly, the companies comprising the “Main street” of the internet have top quality security teams who work tirelessly to make their sites safe. Compare these with the far more dangerous “side streets” of the internet if you want to quantify risk. In other words, the risk is the connection to the web itself, not just social networking sites.

Blocking access to Social Networking Sites doesn’t work: During the policy development process, we were able to change the debate by shifting the definition from “Social Networking Sites” to “Social Networking Services”. As part of this effort, I asked David Recordon, Co-founder of OpenID, current Facebook Open Source Programs Manager, and all around Uber Alpha-Geek, to write about the problem with the remedy STRATCOM was proposing. David’s blog post on O’Reilly Radar, titled, “Dear DoD, the Web Itself is Social” was distributed and read at the highest levels during the policy debate. In describing the problem with blocking social networking sites, David made the case that its virtually impossible to separate social networking sites from the rest of the internet. In this post he made the following statement:

It’s my belief that even if the DoD tried to block all access to social networking sites it would be a never ending and ultimately unsuccessful battle as social is becoming a core component of the web itself.

Even if you block Facebook, people can still interact on Facebook by using HuffingtonPost, WashingtonPost.com, or the New York Times site, or one of hundreds, if not now thousands of other sites. Social networking “sites” is not a relevant term, as their “services” now pervade the internet. As an example, we’ve now gotten to the point where its out of place for a smaller website to ask the user to create a unique login. We EXPECT to use our Facebook, Twitter or Google account to login. So in essence, the question isn’t really whether we should block the social networking sites, the question is whether we block access to the internet. This is truly where the argument will end up, and in fact, was exactly where it ended up during the Internet-based Capabilities policy development phase.

The sad part in all this is that Washington Headquarter Services (WHS), the organization in DoD that manages the policy Directives process, recommended that the language submitted in the DTM go straight to a Directive (a permanent document) instead of a Directive Type Memorandum (a transient document that lasts only 180 days). Had this recommendation been accepted, like most good policy, this would have had an enduring effect.

What’s Next? Given that the Internet-based Capabilities policy was the first policy in DoD to actually engage the public in the policy formulation process, it stands to reason that the public should have a chance to weigh in on its dismissal. There were reasons that USG shifted toward a “Need to Share” mindset. Those reasons haven’t diminished, nor has innovation on the internet.

  • Military families: Do you still need to communicate with your husband, wife, son or daughter through Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Youtube and all the rest? If so, now’s the time to tell someone, like your congressional representative, for instance.
  • Open Government Advocates: Does the expiration of the DoD social media policy seem like a good step? Is it really If not, perhaps we should be discussing it.
  • News Organizations: Your initial breaking of classified data, regularly inaccurate reports and dissemination of out of date drafts of the internet-based capabilities policy helped turn what was a fairly rigorous and internally transparent assessment of the associated risks and opportunities into a circus environment with ramped up emotions and ever tighter unrealistic decision deadlines. Given the fun and enormous chaos you were able to engender before, are you really willing to let this policy die quietly?

I would love to see DoD senior leadership address this issue. Specifically, I would love to them to say that they will not allow blockage of military family communications, that DoD Components can still conduct mission oriented work outside of DoD networks (again, would be nice to see the current policy statement that will back this up) and that they are devoting resources to keeping pace with the risks AND opportunities that internet technologies will continue to serve up. I am positive that DoD is taking appropriate actions to protect the network, but would love to be just as reassured that they are still plan on taking advantage of the opportunities, and not ceding the internet space to our adversaries.

Note: I am no longer working for DoD, and have not since the middle of last year. These views are solely my own and only relate to my time working with DoD CIO in the policy development process. I claim no special knowledge other than recent anecdotal conversations and the experience I had during the policy formulation process, nor have I looked at any documents that provide details on current plans.

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Dennis McDonald

This is the best blog post I’ve read in a long time. My favorite: “Bottom line, its clear that social media has had an immense impact in allowing families to maintain a sense of normalcy. This has a direct impact to military readiness.”

Dennis McDonald

Alexandria, Virginia


Heather S. Marsh

A wonderful and thorough blog post! I’ll certainly share with colleagues. Quick note: I’m attending an All Services Social Media Council meeting on Jan. 27 and on the agenda is the extension of DTM-09-026 and organizational changes/reorg of ASD(NII)/DoD CIO. If I happen to glean any info worth sharing, I will gladly post in this thread.

Noel Dickover

Hi Heather, I hadn’t heard anything about them extending the DTM. That would be terrific though. Please do post back with more info – I’d love to hear it.

Stephen Peteritas

Wow this post floored me. I communicate with several friends in the service via social media. This seems like a much larger issue than DoD is making it out to be.

Noel Dickover

Hi Stephen, unless they have another policy approach to deal with the issues raised above, its definitely a big deal. It would be a shame to see this happen without a discussion on the implications – hence the rationale for writing it. Anything you can do to get the word out would be appreciated.

Terry W. Davis

“Through discussions with people in DoD, I’ve learned that the stated plan to replace this policy with a long-term Instruction has been shelved indefinitely, and all resources associated with this effort have been terminated.” Unfortunate to read this incorrect information. The instruction is temporarily delayed until decisions associated with the Secretary of Defense’s efficiencies are made. Both government and contracted resources (i.e., people and budget) remain available to carry on this effort. While the instruction is on hold, efforts to provide and improve availability of applicable information continue. Updates are being made to http://socialmedia.defense.gov, http://www.defense.gov/webmasters/, https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/429941, and https://www.intelink.gov/wiki/DoDI_8430_DoD_Internet_Services_and_Internet_Based_Capabilities. Additionally, improvments to education and training are ongoing, specifically in the areas of information assurance and operations security. We’ll deal with March 31 as it approaches, but in the meantime there is more sunshine than gloom and doom.

Charles Starkey

Great post! I like that you pointed out not only the use of social media for communicating between deployed troops and families, but also the myriad other uses, and even more importantly- the reality of the ubiquity of social media, and the folly of even thinking you can “block” it. Keep it up.

Raymond Schillinger

While I can understand DoD’s reluctance to implement a permanent policy (especially given the rapid pace of change within social media technology), there is no benefit to sloppy, ad-hoc solutions like an outright block on services.

It will be interesting to see how the policy contours take shape, particularly in light of the multi-dimensional direction that social media appears to be heading (i.e. time/location sensing services). DoD will have to tread carefully, indeed.

Great article!

Maxine Teller

Heather, you are, indeed, correct. In fact, Terry Davis (see his post below), Director of Web Policy at ASD(NII)/DoD CIO, himself, is scheduled to provide updates on the status of IbC-related policies and related resources available to the DoD social media community at the next DoD All-Services Social Media Conference (@DoDASSMC on Twitter) on 27 January. Communication, transparency and two-way dialogue will be critical to achieving buy-in and ownership of DoD’s IbC policies. I’d imagine that this will be one of many information-sharing opportunities (online and offline) about IbC policy.

Additionally, re: DTM 09-026, my understanding is that WHS can choose to grant additional extensions, if extensions are requested by the originating component. I have no information about whether or not this will be the tact that ASD(NII)/DoD CIO chooses to take regarding the 3/2011 expiration date of DTM 09-026.

For context and full-disclosure: I am currently a contractor with ASD(NII)/DoD CIO, reporting to Terry Davis. Like Noel, I participated in the initial strategy development and drafting of DTM 09-026. I have also spent the past year working on the subsequent (to date unissued) DoD Instruction for the responsible & effective use of DoD Internet Services and Internet-based Capabilities. My opinions shared here on GovLoop are my own and do not represent the views of the Department of Defense (because, of course, I am a contractor, and thus, not authorized to speak on behalf of DoD).

Noel Dickover

Hi Terry,

Thanks so much for the response. Can you confirm then that the policy statements in the DTM will still remain in force after March 1, 2011? That military families across all services will still be able to communicate via Facebook, twitter, Youtube, Skype and the like after March 1? That DoD will still be able to use external resources for mission oriented work, and more specifically, that it will be mandated that the NIPRNET will still be connected to Internet-based Capabilities?

Regarding resources devoted to this effort still being available, what exactly does that mean? You refer to efficiencies being made, does this mean other efforts will be cancelled in order to free up resources again to work on the DTM or follow-on Instruction?

Noel Dickover

Terry, just a follow-up regarding resources. OSD PA played a critical role in getting the internet-based capabilities policy passed. It appears as if the social media group in OSD-PA has been disbanded. Sumit Agarwal left in December to go to Policy, and the rest of the team more recently was scattered back down to other PA elements. Can you confirm that DoD’s central social media expertise at PA has been disbanded? If not, where has their functions been moved to?

Thanks again.

Terry W. Davis

Hi Noel, The efficiencies that I mentioned are covered here – http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2011/0810_effinit/. This intitiative will result in a shift of responsibilities and organizational relationships for several DoD organizations – the extent of which are not fully known yet. Because of this, the draft instruction is on hold. As soon as applicable decisions are made, the responsibilities and relationships explained in the instruction will be adjusted as necessary and it will then resume going forward in the formal issuance process. Resources still being available means that other DoD employees, including available contractors will be dedicated to ensuring that adjustments are made and the issuance process is completed as quickly as possible. Concerning the DTM, my personal expectation is that its effective period will simply be extended again. I’ve not seen or heard any indications that DoD will move in a significantly different direction from what is in the DTM. Otherwise, Noel, I will have to agree that your blog post was an excellent capture of some of the history behind this issue and reminder of why the overall issue of responsible and effective use of IbC remains relevant and important.

Terry W. Davis

Concerning OASD(PA) and the social media group, “disbanded” may be accurate, but the connotation could be misleading. My understanding is that OASD(PA) leadership feels that the organization has matured to embrace the use of social media across all their subgroups/functions and that a dedicated group is no longer needed to be effective. For clarity, I don’t work in or with ASD(PA) on a daily basis, so I would suggest direct comms with them for the best information on the status of their organizational elements.

Noel Dickover

Thanks again for the responses, Terry. Very much appreciated. Do you have a sense of when the reorg will be finalized? The concern of course is that downsizing implies less functions being performed. It sounds as if the OSD PA social media group is a casualty of this. Here’s to hoping your policy effort survives the reorg.

Lorne W. Neff

As a member of an National Guard Public Affairs, I can definitely say we did not have access to social media sites before this policy directive came out (and still don’t have access to You Tube) and fought most of the year to get access outside our office. We are just now building the kind of relationships/networks to connect our members and their families. It would be unfortunate to have this process cut off again.

Terry W. Davis

The author of that article, Heather, is a member of GovLoop and has been following this blog and comments.
Noel, I believe that March 15 was the completion target set by SecDef. It is probably in the documentation provided on that website address that I provided earlier, I just have not had time to go dig it out.

Stephen Peteritas

Just want to say big props to Terry for coming in and being so active in this discussion providing answers. Exactly what GovLoop is designed for! THANKS

Noel Dickover

Interesting. Wired’s latest post indicates that the Pentagon’s Cyber-Policy arm will be in charge of the follow-on issuance (and that Sumit Agarwal may be involved). This seems different with what Terry was indicating, which is that his Instruction, which is largely already done, will be used. Terry, is this just wierd wording on Wired’s part or is this a change from what you indicated?


Love this comment. I’ve tried to explain this to people as well and they are just starting to get it. Is Washington Post blocked cause it has FB connect in the comments? Wired magazine cause of social integratin

“It’s my belief that even if the DoD tried to block all access to social networking sites it would be a never ending and ultimately unsuccessful battle as social is becoming a core component of the web itself.”

Rob Rapanut

I hope this fear of social media has not been exacerbated by the whole wikileaks saga. A thoughtful policy should balance the need for social media, OPSEC and INFOSEC in a post-wikileak environment. You already articulated some reasons that mission is assisted by social media. A revert back to no social media is tatmount to taking the easiest way out or lowest common denominator, I hope this does not stifle creative and innovate business model or ideas.

Noel Dickover

Rob, I’d love to see some research and in-depth reporting on the impact of the whole wikileaks thing as it pertains to the larger USG conversation of moving from a “Need to Know” to a “Need to Share” posture.

Aldo Bello

Noel…thanks for the update on this situation…I was first made aware via a Federal Computer Week article that referenced this blog post as well as the Wired article mentioned in the thread below. Ultimately, for reasons too numerous to elaborate, permanently shutting access to social network sites is impossible, it just simply can’t be done.

Alexander B. Howard

Wrote up a piece with official Pentagon response: Department of Defense: access to Internet-based capabilities is critical, despite risks

“In 2011, Internet-based capabilities, including social networking, are no longer a “nice to have” at the Department of Defense. According to official documents, policies statements, and the example set by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, these capabilities can and do contribute to the missions of the Pentagon. Yes, loose tweets may sink fleets, as a read of the U.S. Navy social media handbook reminds sailors, but the opportunities appear to balance the risks.’

Noel Dickover

Hi Alex and Aldo, I think the bottom line in all this is all those who helped with the initial battle for the social media policy (other than absolute senior leadership who are still there and clearly support this) have left. The DTM is a transitory document, so something, be it Terry’s document or something coming out of USD Policy as Wired suggests, will eventually replace it. This is one of those policies where its really important to keep tracking, and to ensure that the Pentagon stays on record for what its upcoming plans are.