Blog post

The US Marines Choose Banning Over Governance for Social Networking

By Anthony J. Bradley | August 04, 2009 | 3 Comments

An associated press article just hit the streets with the Marine Corps announcement that they are banning access to social networking sites.

It will be interesting to hear the details behind this choice of banning over governance. This begs many questions like:

  • What are the results of the risk v. benefit report cited?
  • What actual risks were encountered or anticipated?
  • Is the concern network security or human behavior risk?
  • Why wouldn’t good governance minimize the risk?
  • Is this a national security issue or an enterprise security issue?
  • What sites are banned and how will they stop people from accessing other social Web sites?
  • Are they precluding their military recruiters from using facebook or are there exceptions?
  • How will this impact their ability to recruit young people who practically live on these social sites?

Many, maybe even the majority, of organizations have moved out of the “Fear” adoption stage so this announcement bucks the trend. There are lots of questions and the Marine Corps runs the risk of significantly negatively impacting their image.

See “The Business Impact of Social Computing on Company Governance” for an explanation of Gartner’s six stages of social media adoption and “Toolkit: Establishing Policy for Social Software Applications” for research on establishing an effective policy for social media (research available to clients or for a fee).

All technologies have a down side. Planes, helicopters, trucks, and automobiles crash. Weapons unintentionally hurt people. Children drown in pools every year. Yet we don’t ban these things, we adjust our behaviors to increase the benefits and reduce the risks. Why would social networking (or the Internet/Web in general) be any different?

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  • Al Passori says:

    The Department of the Navy (DON) CIO conducts a blog to discuss matters related to information management and IT and how they impact the department:

    As many of us realize, social networks have been created outside the boundaries of government that play an increasingly important role in policymaking as well as service delivery

    Excerpts from DON CIO BLOG:

    “…Several of the questions that came up during the town hall were about the use of Web 2.0 and social networking tools. As I am a passionate believer in open communication and collaboration, I am heartened to see that there is a strong desire to use these tools as part of our way of doing business within the Department. I was also happy to learn that Secretary Ray Mabus is also very interested in how these tools can further the business of the Department.

    In fact, many commands have begun using Web 2.0 and social media tools. SPAWAR, for one, has invested a great deal of energy into the development of an internal social networking application. They have also created an internal network of blogs they call “Blog Planet.” Additionally, the Office of General Counsel has developed “OGC Online,” a collaborative forum for the DON legal community to share information, network and provide a repository for collective knowledge. These tools were an investment to provide a communication platform for the staff to use to collaborate and accelerate the delivery of results.

    The DON leadership is also using Web 2.0 tools to share information with the Fleet and the rest of the DON community. Admiral Robert Willard, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, has a Facebook page, a blog and a podcast. Admiral James Stavridis, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, also has a Facebook page. In addition, visitors to the web site, as well as visitors to this site, will notice that both have RSS feeds, which bring content to users as it is posted.

    I have asked my team to look into what is available within the Department that the DON CIO may be able to leverage to better interact with the DON community. I would be interested to hear from you about the Web 2.0/social networking/collaboration tools you are using and for what purposes…”

    My take is that attracting/retaining Next Generation military (and civilian) Millenials will be increasingly difficult under a permanent ban.

    Digital natives often depend on social-networking sites to organize their lives and communicate with their friends (see “2012: The Store of the Digital Native”). For example, the CTO of St. Georges Bank in Australia was recently quoted in the “Australian Financial Review” regarding the positive impact on recruitment. The Pew Internet and American Life study in January 2007 indicated that 48% of U.S. teenage Internet users accessed a social-networking site at least once per day.

    For these users, social-networking sites replace or augment the traditional water cooler or cafeteria as a place to meet and exchange ideas and information. Social-networking sites go one step further to improve on the water cooler model by enabling users to interact with colleagues who are physically remote and to provide contact in an asynchronous, unscheduled manner.

    Blocking social-networking sites is equivalent to banning the the use of e-mail or telephones for personal business. Some digital natives might view it as being as “barbaric” as not even providing IM or cell phones. This type of restrictive corporate environment will not attract (or retain) the best and brightest and may adversely impact morale long-term.

    The issue may very well being able to apply good governance, appropriate controls and oversight and perhaps, separating “normal business use” versus classified, OPSEC (operational security) needs and concerns.

  • Anthony Bradley says:

    Al, I could not agree more. I was the Director of IT for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command for 4 years and image matters when recruiting.

    It is also important to point out that many, many, many, people and commands in DoD recognize the value of social media and are or are planning powerful implementations. Indeed, many of them are workforce facing rather than public facing.

  • Al Passori says:

    Anthony, good thread and you raise some very good questions around the issue. I see the ban as a temporary ’stand down’ for good measure. It’s a healthy sign of growing pains and should have been expected.

    The DON CIO signed a memo last fall encouraging the use of Web 2.0 tools, and he explicitly stated additional guidance would be forthcoming.

    I quote: “We in the DON CIO, in cooperation with our Federal CIO partners, are working on guidance that will further outline the safe and effective use of social media. We recognize that there are security implications that come with these new technologies, and as with anything else, we will need to manage the balance between security and access to information.”

    The temporary ban, until the issue is fully explored, may be a smart first move by the USMC to put the requisite focus and resources on policy, governance and controls as a way to enable WEB 2.0 applications.

    The 30-Day Report will be an interesting read. I suspect that many more DoD flag officers will submit their experience, opinions, policy interests, concerns and solutions.

    Stay tuned!