As of yesterday, U.S. soldiers are blocked from accessing YouTube, MySpace, and 11 other websites on official Defense Department computers nationwide, “severing some of the most popular ties linking U.S. troops in combat areas to their far-flung relatives and friends, and depriving soldiers of a favorite diversion from the boredom of overseas duty.”
The military has justified the new policy by stating it will “increase network security and protect the use of the bandwidth.” But soldiers are already barred from posting classified material and scholars point out that “the Pentagon could have rationed Web access rather than cut it off entirely.” While troops will still be allowed to visit the sites from non-military computers, “few soldiers in combat areas carry private computers.”
At the same time it is banning soldiers’ access to such sites, the Pentagon is stepping up its own efforts on social networking sites:
The Defense Department barred access to the Web sites even as the military has stepped up its campaign to upload official videos to the Web, including on YouTube, to help portray U.S. combat efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan in a favorable light. In the past two months, for instance, the military has posted YouTube videos showing troops engaged in a gun battle in Baghdad, destroying chemical factories, attacking insurgent mortar positions and rescuing a kidnap victim.
The Multinational Force in Iraq now has a YouTube channel to “document action as it appeared to personnel on the ground and in the air as it was shot.” (Even though, as ars technica notes, clips are edited for “time, security reasons, and/or overly disturbing or offensive images.”)
The Army and Marines have also set up MySpace pages to help with recruiting efforts. “It is where prospects are,” said Louise Eaton, media and Web chief for the U.S. Army Accession Command. The Air Force put up a page in Aug. 2006, but then took it down a month later.
The new Defense Department policy comes “one month after the Army issued a regulation barring soldiers from posting entries on blogs, participating in online discussion groups or sending personal e-mail unless the content is cleared by an superior officer.”