Social media: The military's mixed feelings

Tom Johansmeyer

For all their popularity and apparent depth, the rules underlying social media market share are exceedingly simple. In short, there are two basic dimensions for a successful site: people and experience. If an application can accumulate people and getting them to reveal details that trigger interaction, then it can create a cycle in which more users join, reveal personal information, inspiring more users, and so on. However, there's one part of the potential user base for companies like Facebook and Twitter that can be difficult to maximize: the military.

In the United States, the Department of Defense has issued mixed messages on the use of social media tools. On personally-owned computers, there is nothing prohibiting military personnel from opening a browser and twitpic-ing the usual fare – from the mundane to the strange. In this regard, soldiers are, effectively, normal people. Yet, past this baseline for use, there is a labyrinthine standard derived from common sense, information technology policy and operational security.