U.S. military enters the 21st century, allows access to social networking

The Pentagon announced on Friday that military personnel who use its non-classified network will now have access to popular social networking websites such as Twitter and Facebook, along with services such as YouTube according to a report from Reuters.

The decision came after a seven-month review with senior officials, which concluded that the benefits of social media outweigh the risks typically associated with such sites and will allow the military to better interact with soldiers, many of whom are in their early 20's.

David Wennergren, a deputy assistant secretary of defense said in a statement to Reuters that "The purpose of the policy is to recognize that we need to take advantage of these Internet-based capabilities. These Web 2.0 tools need to be part of what we use."

Social media has become increasingly important as these services captivate a large portion of Internet users' daily activity. For example, Admiral Mike Mullen, who is a top U.S. military officer, has a Twitter feed with over 16,000 followers. And during the crisis in Haiti, U.S. Southern Command offered operational updates using Twitter as well.

Under the new policy, commanders will still need to defend against cyber-attacks and block access to content such as pornography, gambling, and sites that promote "hate-crime related activities". It also allows commanders to temporarily limit soldiers' Internet access if bandwidth is overwhelmed, which is a serious issue for U.S. forces fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan, or for those stationed in remote areas.

Wennergren said that commanders also have the authority to limit access to safeguard missions, including prohibiting the use of social media ahead of a major offensive. 

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