Say What? Marines Ban Social Media for One Year

It wouldn’t come as a shock that the military might be skittish about social media, but some branches are surprisingly forward-thinking—namely, the Air Force, whose “Web Posting Response Assessment” is often used as a best-in-class example of how to manage negative conversations in the blogosphere.

Not so much with the Marines, though. Cyberspace was all a-Twitter with comments surrounding the Corps’ recent decision to ban social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace from its networks for one year.

“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,” reads a Marine Corps order, issued Monday, August 3, 2009. “The very nature of SNS [social network sites] creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts OPSEC [operational security], COMSEC [communications security], [and] personnel… at an elevated risk of compromise.”

This is all true, with one very significant exception: A social media ban in no way correlates to reduced risk—if anything, it will make these “malicious actors” more inclined to try their hand at infiltrating virtual protective walls.

Instead of digging a cyber spider hole in which to hide, I would argue that the Marines would have been profoundly better off had they chosen to develop and implement a very careful social media policy. After all, this is the very safeguard put in place by dozens of the most risk-averse companies in the business world—that is, once they realized that avoidance would hurt, not help, their cause.

Or, am I being unreasonable to judge the Marines’ decision? My grandfather was a Marine Corps Capitan in the Korean War but, aside from war stories told by surviving relatives, that is my one and only window into the military. I’d like to pose the question to readers: The Marine Corps is justified in banning social media use for the stated reasons—yay or nay?

By Courtney Barnes

PS–Check out the August 10, 2009, issue of PR News, in which a new feature called “PR Advisers” debuts. In the first installation, four communications experts weigh in on social media policy must-haves. Definitely check it out, and email me at if you’d like to submit a question for consideration.

  • Derek

    I think it is a good move. Some things to keep in mind:

    It isn’t a permanent ban. It’s only for a year. Likely, the primary use of the ban is to provide operational security for the short-term until a long-term solution, that allows some form of SNS access, is implemented. Safeguards, and procedures, need to be put in place and these changes and decisions are not quickly nor easily made. Until then, some sort of security (or limit of access) needs to be in place.

    Also, it was also mentioned that waivers would be allowed for mission-critical issues. While this may sound limited, chances are good that quite a few of these will be issued as long as there is reasonable justification for it. This means, really, that the ban really only affects recreational and non-mission essential uses on DoD systems.

    I think that saying
    “A social media ban in no way correlates to
    reduced risk—if anything, it will make these
    “malicious actors” more inclined to try their
    hand at infiltrating virtual protective
    is a bit misleading, assuming it is even true. It is much easier, faster, and affects more people, to spread a virus using a SNS or email, than for a ‘malicious actor’ to penetrate a defended computer system. It is a reduced risk, because it requires more effort and time to insert and spread the virus, and will affect far fewer users. If the ban does indeed force one of these felons to choose this path (instead of simply using a SNS), then this fact in and of itself shows a benefit.

    I think the bottom line I’m saying, is to not be too alarmist about this. It’s just a security stepping stone.

  • J. Geibel

    The military has its own way of doing things. They don’t have to make sense to civilians, nor do they have to bow to civilian fads. They have this more important priority called a “mission” – which often involves security in both internal and external communications.

    There are many publicized stories of military (or DOD) personnel who, through carelessness, have exposed their units and commands to cyber infiltration. And they are only the stories we know about.

    Years ago, before social media, the expression was “Loose lips sink ships.” This is kinda the same thing, updated to the second millennium.

    This is a blunt scene from the movie “A Few Good Men” – but it gets the point across.

  • Clay

    I guess I just don’t understand the uproar. I think the Marine Corps stated an understandable concern. But left my concern – which is far less important than their vital mission – out. That is every time I walk through the office, I see Facebook pages up on computers, instead of work. Maybe I should ban it.